Mitt Romney, in a move that probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Americans, has announced his support of for-profit colleges. Because profit is always good, right?
According to an article by Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times:
At a town-hall-style meeting in New Hampshire last month, listeners pressed Mitt Romney on the soaring cost of higher education. His solution: students should consider for-profit colleges like the little-known Full Sail University in Florida. A week later in Iowa, Mr. Romney offered another unsolicited endorsement for “a place in Florida called Full Sail University.” By increasing competition, for-profit institutions like Full Sail, which focuses on the entertainment field, “hold down the cost of education” and help students get jobs without saddling them with excessive debt, he said.
Interesting. Apparently the full cost of a 21-month program in “video game art” at Full Sail, a school that offers degrees in things like in audio, film, design, and computer animation, is $81,000. Of the program’s 272 students (in 2008) just 38 graduated. The average student at Full Sail carries $59,000 in student debt. Lichtblau:
When students look at such schools, Mr. Romney said, “you’re going to find students saying: ‘You know what? That’s not a bad deal. I’m not willing to come out of college with a hundred thousand dollars in debt.’ The alternative is to say the government is going to pay for that.”
Ignore for a moment the fact that Full Sail CEO Bill Heavener is a major donor to the Romney campaign. What Romney’s Full Sail praise really seems to indicate is a pretty serious misunderstanding of the factors that actually shape the lives of America’s working class.
There are a number of reasons Americans choose to attend for-profit trade schools. But all evidence indicates they do it mostly because the programs they want are often not available, or impossible to schedule, at local community colleges due to underfunding.
But no one has ever decided to attend a for-profit college in order to avoid debt. The average for-profit results in more than $40,000 worth of debt per degree issued. The average public college degree results in about $18,000 worth of debt. The average private college results in about $22,000 worth of debt per degree.
Romney’s right that for-profit colleges “hold down the cost of education” but that doesn’t make tuition cheaper; it makes the company more profitable. That’s a great business model, but it’s a big stretch to say such a model is terribly useful as a plan for higher education.
Full Sail is owned by TA Associates, a $16 billion Boston-based private equity firm headed by Kevin Landry. Landry, whose company worked with Bain Capital on a merger of two companies back in 2002, gave $40,000 to Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future.