On January 13 longtime Congressman George Miller (D-CA-11th) announced that he’s retiring when his term ends next year.
Miller, who is 68, said that “About a year ago, my sons started saying, ‘C’mon, Dad, it’s been 40 years!’” And, perhaps more importantly, [When I think about] what I have accomplished in partnership with my staff in the past 40 years. I can look back on our body of work and be very proud of it. It was still a hard decision. But it felt right.” Miller has served in Congress since 1975.
Over the course of his career Miller has taken on many policy projects, including infrastructure, labor, education and health care legislation.
But in recent years he’s been particularly interesting, for this publication, due to his role on the Education and Labor Committee and his role in curtailing abuses in the for-profit college industry. He wasn’t huge champion of the issue, but he played an important policy role.
What happens now that he’s gone? According to a piece by David Halperin at the Huffington Post, this might represent some sort of victory for proprietary education. As he writes,
Miller has not been a strong and active critic of this industry in the way that other members, like Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), or Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Keith Ellison (D-MN), have been. He didn’t even sign a recent letter sent by House Democrats in support of the Administration’s “gainful employment” rule to penalize career colleges that consistently leave their students deep in debt. But Miller did vote with the administration, and spoke out against, an amendment to block the rule a few years ago.
In line to replace Miller as the ranking Democrat (or chair, if the Democrats took back the House) on the Education & the Workforce Committee would be Rob Andrews (D-NJ). Andrews has been one of the for-profit colleges’ best friends on Capitol Hill, consistently opposing efforts to place reasonable accountability on an industry that gets $33 billion in federal aid, whose big players get 86 percent of their revenue from taxpayers. Most recently, Andrews, with Alcee Hasting (D-FL), the other House Democrat most active in opposing Obama on this issue, tried to enlist a group of fellow Democrats to sign a letter asking the Administration not to issue any gainful employment rule.
Maybe. From From 2007 to 2011, Miller served as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and he’s now ranking member. A lot of what happens with regard to education policy has to do with which party wins the House in the next election. And Andrews doesn’t really look, well, good for higher education oversight.
But Miller’s efforts might be longer lasting than his time in Congress. Many for-profit colleges have closed or gotten a lot smaller as a result of the new gainful employment rule on federal financial aid, which stipulates that in order to continue to receive federal funding such colleges must make sure that at least 35 percent of former students are paying down their loans, former students must not have to pay more than 30 percent of their discretionary income on loan payments, and former students must not spend more than 12 percent of their total income on loan payments.
That rule, of course, very much depends on who takes education leadership positions in the next Congress, and what issues they embrace.
But in another sense, the bloom might be off the rose on for-profit college. The behemoth for-profit University of Phoenix, for instance, was largely in compliance with gainful employment rules. But the school still closed about half of its campuses after its 2012 fiscal fourth-quarter net income tumbled 60 percent and its enrollment declined almost 60 percent.
This may simply be because many potential students have just come to believe that attending a for-profit college many not be such a good idea for their careers. And it’s going to take a lot before America’s perception of the industry gets positive again.
As Miller said back in 2009, many for-profit colleges seemed to be “gaming the system” and signing up “students who may not be fully ready for college and may be more likely to default” on their loans.
And that sort of revelation may matter a lot in long term education policy, no matter who occupies education leadership positions in the next Congress.