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For-Profits Hope Urban Democrats Will Help Them

September 25, 2020
 
 

The association representing for-profit colleges and universities is coming under fire after a news report that it is targeting Democratic members of Congress in urban areas to oppose efforts to further regulate the industry.

U.S. News & World Report reported Thursday on a political strategy memo written by Steve Gunderson, president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, for the steps the group will take if Democrats gain control of Congress and the White House in November’s election.

As Inside Higher Ed has reported, the industry is worried Democrats would restore regulations passed by the Obama administration but repealed by Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

In internal documents, Gunderson wrote that the group should try to get help from Democrats in urban areas, because there are many for-profit colleges in their districts.

Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who has been a strong opponent of the for-profits that have been accused of misleading prospective students about the value of the education they’d receive, condemned the group in a statement.

“The for-profit colleges’ recent strategy memo tells all,” Durbin said. “Former Republican Congressman Steve Gunderson, now president of this group, has set his sights on exploiting Black and Brown students and the politicians who represent them. Add this disgusting strategy to the list of for-profit college outrages: worthless diplomas and mountains of debt -- just what young people don’t need.”

However, as reported by the news site, a letter Gunderson wrote to members last month appeared to describe a political strategy instead of saying for-profits should target minorities. It appeared to be a political strategy.

According to the report, Gunderson wrote that if Democrats take political control, the result would be "a new wave of ideological opponents at the Department of Education seeking to reverse positive changes in policy over the past four years." The Aug. 19 letter continued, "We need approximately 20 reliable Democrats to join with Republicans in ways that can stop some of the most harmful proposals."

Gunderson said the group should focus on the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as well as the conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

"Many of our schools are in urban areas and thus Democrat Congressional Districts," Gunderson wrote, noting that 51 percent of students enrolled in degree or certificate programs that are two years or less in length are Black or Hispanic.

"We see some evidence that as we communicate to these urban Members of Congress how some of these proposals would impact students in their district, we are seeing some evidence of emerging support," U.S. News reported Gunderson writing. "For many, they see our sector as the bridge to reducing the current income inequality gaps in America today."

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Gunderson wrote, "We are not targeting anyone. Rather, we are trying to communicate to Members of Congress who have a large number of students attending our career colleges in their district. We want them to engage with the students attending these schools, and the schools themselves, to see how successful we are in serving their constituents."

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