Michelle Rhee and For-Profit Colleges

MichelleRheey

On January 23 the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the government relations umbrella group for for-profit colleges in the United States, announced that former president George W. Bush would be the keynote speaker at the organization’s annual conference in June at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

While this generated some minor controversy, it wasn’t really all that surprising. Bush was very supportive of for-profit colleges during his time in office. During his first term, for instance, Bush appointed former University of Phoenix lobbyist Sally Stroup to be assistant secretary for postsecondary education in his Department of Education.

But another speaker at this event is drawing a lot more attention. David Halperin at Republic Report writes that:

APSCU has announced the conference’s “additional speaker,” and it’s former District of Columbia Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee [above], now the CEO of education advocacy group Students First. If you’ve been on the fence about Rhee, not sure if she’s a sincere reformer with real results or a union-busting elitist aimed at replacing public education with charters, private schools, and online learning companies, you may find cause to jump off the fence now. By speaking at the annual meeting of the most cynical group of “educators” ever assembled — Wall-Street owned businesses that enrich their CEOs and ruin students’ lives at taxpayer expense and then hire armies of lobbyists to protect their privileges — Rhee has made her preferences very clear.

That’s right, Michelle Rhee, education reformer, Teach for America alumnus, someone who works to “defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform so that America has the best education system in the world.”

Rhee was chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. During her time in office the controversial superintendent closed 23 schools, fired 36 principals, and eliminated more than 120 administrative positions.

It’s unclear what she will say at the conference or why she decided that particular type of college is one worth highlighting. It perhaps has something to do with APSCU paying her about $50,000.

For-profit colleges, which make up to 90 percent their revenue through federal student aid, have been attacked by opponents for their low graduation rates, high debt levels, and the murky career prospects of their graduates.

“She staked her career on the concept of shutting down underperforming, bad schools,” Halperin writes. “And now she will address a room full of them.”

For-profit colleges don’t appear to have any prior relationship with Rhee and it’s unclear what she plans to discuss at the conference. [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