Rick Santorum Announces Support for For-Profit Colleges

Former Senator Rick Santorum said last week that he believes President Obama is “waging war” on for-profit colleges. According to a speech he gave at the Detroit Economic Club published in the Detroit Free Press:

One of the concerns I have with this revitalized economy is to make sure that we have the education and training available to train people for these new jobs — including older workers. And what we’ve seen in this president is an assault on those very schools that do most of the training out there, and that’s the private schools. This president has had a war on private [for-profit] education.

This comes as a shock to some people, that the president would have a war on something. But this is consistent. He believes that private sector schools are somehow evil and they’re abusive, and his Education Department has done everything they could to make it harder for them to compete for loans and other things and to stay in business.

Under the Department of Education’s “ Gainful Employment” provisions of 2011 for-profit colleges are cut off from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren’t paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his total earnings servicing student loans.

Leaving aside, for a moment, all politics here: that just doesn’t really sound like the sort of policy designed to prevent all for-profit colleges from “staying in business.” Perhaps I’m a little biased here but that seems like a fairly straightforward protection on the use of taxpayer dollars.

Santorum explained that he was really supportive of for-profit colleges because “they are going to be the principal tool, along with community college to respond to… exploding demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers to do the jobs of the future.“

A study published earlier this month in the Journal of Economic Perspectives indicated that the average former for-profit student earned $19,950 a year in 2009. The average former community college student, in contrast, earned $24,795.

Some 40 percent of former for-profit students were unemployed more than 3 months after leaving their programs.

Santorum said that he if he were elected president he would have “a very, very different attitude toward” for-profit colleges and he would support such companies enthusiastically in order to “help the business community meet their training needs.”

That 40 percent unemployment rate might indicate that for-profit schools aren’t really the best training programs for this “revitalized economy.”

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