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October 02, 2010 12:00 PM The For-Profit Rally and the For-Profit Hearing

By Daniel Luzer

Earlier this week, on Thursday, two groups met to talk about America’s proprietary colleges. They met at the same time, and in mostly the same place. Both groups were made up of Republicans and Democrats.Both groups were vaguely designed to address issues pertaining to the American working class. The two groups didn’t meet each other. And they never can meet each other.

At 10:30 in the morning hundreds of students from for-profit schools around the country met on the lawn on the southwest corner of the Capital grounds to take part in the “rally” for the for-profits organized by the colleges’ chief lobbying and public relations group, the Career College Association. According to an article by Jennifer Epstein at Inside Higher Ed:

Some students were in scrubs, others in striped mechanics’ coveralls, most in jeans. Over them, they wore navy blue T-shirts with white text spelling out the motto of the day, “My Education. My Job. My Choice.” When prompted by speakers, some chanted that phrase or applauded.

Dawn Connor, nominal leader of the CCA-organized student group, Students for Academic Choice, also spoke at the event. Explaining to those assembled, according to Epstein, that:

“Your presence and energy sends a message to Washington that we want to preserve equality of academic choice in our nation’s system of higher education,” said Connor, who is a veterinary technology student at Globe University in Wisconsin. “Our goal is to help preserve the hard work we have put into our education and the value of our achievements.”

As Erin Dillon over at Education Sector pointed out last month, it may have been Connor’s education, job, and choice, but it’s the American taxpayers’ money.

Meanwhile, at 10 in the morning and less than a mile away, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa hosted the third hearing of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building to investigate the practices of America’s for-profit schools.

Kathleen Bittel, formerly of the Career Services Department at one for-profit college company, Education Management Corporation, testified before the committee that as part of her job she engaged in fraudulent reporting to improve the statistics about job placement. She,

…was repeatedly pressured to call graduates working in unrelated fields and review with them the courses they had taken while at the Art Institute to find obscure details of their current jobs where it could be considered that they were indeed “using their skills”. If one could convince them that they were using these “skills” at least 25 percent of the time in their current job, and to sign the employment form stating so, then their job could be counted as field related employment. This was rife with abuse. Employees were expected to convince graduates that skills they used in jobs such as working as waiters, payroll clerks, retail sales, and gas station attendants were actually related to their course of study in areas like graphic design and residential planning.

That’s the thing with the “value of the achievements” of students at for-profit colleges. These are career schools. Their only value, therefore, is in helping graduates obtain good jobs. That’s the only achievement that matters. So why did Bittel feel such pressure to be dishonest about job placement? And what does that say about the business model of her program?

It would have been more effective, or maybe just more interesting to watch, if the two groups had appeared in the same place and Bittel and Connor—not to mention Harkin and CCA President Harris Miller—had a moment to talk. They all say they only have the interests of the students at these schools in mind.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer