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August 01, 2012 10:00 AM What’s Next for Harkin and Proprietary Colleges?

By Daniel Luzer

With the release of Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s final (four volume) report on for-profit colleges, his investigation comes to an end. What happens next?

A lot of this depends on what happens with Congress this election.

While the report recommends that the federal government college and report more information about student outcomes, limit the availability of federal financial aid for-profit colleges can use, and establish “minimum standards for student services that include tutoring, remediation, financial aid, and career counseling and job placement” it’s unclear if he’ll be able to willing to institute any of these changes, especially since many Republican on his committee characterized his report as biased and inappropriately hostile to for-profit colleges.

Harkin recommended that for-profit colleges establish stricter standards voluntarily, though this seems unlikely given that proprietary colleges found the report misguided. According to an article by Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed:

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the sector’s trade group, said Harkin… was “misrepresenting” for-profits as part of his “ideological cause.”
Bill Pepicello, president of the University of Phoenix, sent a message to the university’s 350,000 students over the weekend, telling them more attention would soon be paid questioning Phoenix’s “commitment to your success.” He also said many politicians misunderstand “how we fit into the higher education landscape,” thinking, for example, of college students as being teenagers, not the working adults who primarily attend Phoenix.

The report wasn’t even endorsed by other Democrats on the committee so it’s not going to result in any new legislation. Harkin indicated that legislation was unlikely to more forward given the current congress.

He said the best way to turn his recommendations into laws would be to wait until 2013, when Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act.

The chance of such legislation being favorable to Harkin’s “ideological cause,” however, depends on which party takes Congress (and the presidency) in the upcoming election.

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