Santorum and For-Profit Colleges

So let’s imagine for a moment that Rick Santorum can separate his concerns about jobs and the economy from his broader commitment to cultural (or as he would put it, “spiritual”) warfare. What are some of his distinctive policy proposals beyond the usual cut-taxes-cut-spending stuff? Yes, there’s his well-known support for preferential tax treatment for manufacturers, which has received at best mixed reviews (even from conservatives). He also drew major attention recently for saying he wanted to get not only the feds but the states out of the business of significant involvement in K-12 education.

But much less-well-known is that Santorum has set himself up as a big champion of for-profit colleges. As Daniel Luzer explains at College Guide today, Santorum has been sharply critical of the president for allegedly “waging war” on the for-profits. His position?

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.”

I guess the fact that they are “private” and “for-profit” is enough for Santorum to put a big thumb on the scales on their behalf.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.