Democratic senator Tom Harkin appears to be leading a battle against for-profit colleges. Chairman of the Senate’s committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Harkin led the discussion when the committee began its for-profit investigation on June 24.

He’s continuing the fight. On Tuesday he wrote in an op-ed the Los Angeles Times that,

Their recruitment ads are ubiquitous, offering visions of a cap-and-gown graduation, followed by placement in a well-paying job. At their best, for-profit colleges deliver. Many provide top-quality, innovative options for students who want to pursue postsecondary education while managing work and family obligations.

But serious questions have been raised about some of the major players in this rapidly growing industry. Critics charge that many for-profit colleges employ overly aggressive recruiting tactics targeting low-income students. Students take on excessive debt, and though dropout rates are not available, there is reason to believe that they are very high.

It’s unclear how the junior United States Senator from Iowa got so concerned about America’s proprietary schools. His state, due to its low population, doesn’t have many colleges. Iowa is, however, the headquarters of the Iowa College Acquisition Corporation, a for-profit college development company more commonly known as Kaplan University. Though apparently Kaplan’s administration building is in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the company is based in Davenport, Iowa, three hours from Harkin’s hometown. (Kaplan, Inc. owns the Iowa College Acquisition Corporation. The Washington Post Company owns Kaplan, Inc.)

One wonders about Harkin’s next step. As he put it, “an absence of federal oversight has allowed a dangerous bubble to grow in the for-profit college industry.” Well it looks like the oversight is back. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer