Higher Ed, Not Debt is a nonprofit advocacy group with a focus on for-profit colleges. It joined with the Service Employees International Union and Student Debt Action to organize a Monday protest outside the annual shareholder meeting of ITT Educational Services Inc., which owns ITT Tech, an embattled for-profit chain that is facing federal fraud charges and various other state and federal lawsuits.
Inside Higher Ed reported on the demonstration in Arlington, Va., which featured about 20 protesters. A news release Higher Ed, Not Debt distributed before the event said “former educators and ITT students” would attend. At the demonstration, an official with the group told a reporter that multiple students who had attended ITT were there.
However, only one former ITT student attended, the group later disclosed. The former student, Anthony Byrd, said he attended an ITT campus for about six weeks. Inside Higher Ed was not able to confirm those details, as Byrd refused to grant a waiver from federal student privacy rules that would have allowed ITT to release details about his time at the school.
Higher Ed, Not Debt is organized by unions and progressive groups, including the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Center for American Progress confirmed that only one former ITT student attended the event.
“Anthony Byrd was the only former ITT Tech student who was able to attend the demonstration yesterday,” the spokesman said in an email. “Many of [the] demonstrators were advocates from groups like Higher Ed, Not Debt and the SEIU, which advocate for students who were wronged by for-profit institutions like ITT Tech.”
The spokesman said many ITT Tech students are financially stressed and unable to make the trip for the protest. But he said 1,500 former students of the for-profit chain have signed a petition asking for a refund.
On Monday ITT said the protest's organizers were not providing accurate information to students or shareholders about ITT's successes.
“Organizations with ideological biases are tainted by ulterior motives, and they frequently recruit people to stage protests,” said Nicole Elam, an ITT spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. “We are helping students build better lives, secure employment and earn higher salaries. The targeted recruitment of former students as ‘spokespeople’ by these organizations also provides us no option to counter claims that may be false, without a student providing a signed release of their records.”
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