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Two Democrats in the U.S. Senate have asked five companies that help colleges and universities manage their online academic programs for information about their contracts and relationships with the institutions. The letter from Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio seeks either copies of contracts with the institutions or, "alternatively," information about the nature and term of all of their institutional contracts. The letter also requests data on how much revenue they receive and how much they spend on services such as marketing, recruiting, instruction and student support for each institutional client. The senators also seek information about how the companies comply with federal rules prohibiting payments to recruiters on a per-student basis.

The letters, which went to chief executives as 2U, Academic Partnerships, Bisk Education, Pearson Education and Wiley Education Services, is the latest shot across the bow in Democratic politicians' increasing scrutiny into the role of corporate influence in higher education, and online education in particular. In the last year or so, think tank officials with ties to previous Democratic administrations have published a highly critical report on the quality of online education (focusing largely on several current and former for-profit education providers) and an opinion essay (in Inside Higher Ed) questioning the legality of revenue-sharing agreements between colleges and online program management companies, or OPMs.