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June 21, 2011 10:00 AM Why Did Harris Miller Resign?

By Samuel Knight

Late last week, the President and chief executive of a key group that lobbies on behalf of for-profit colleges tendered his resignation. On Friday, the head of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), Harris N. Miller, said that his decision to step down would take effect immediately.

“I’ve taken APSCU and this incredibly important sector of higher education which effectively serves so many of those otherwise excluded from climbing the economic ladder to new levels,” Miller said in a statement released on APSCU’s website.

Conversely, for-profit colleges have also come under fire for making the economic ladder that much more difficult to climb by burdening students with massive amounts of debt and providing them with substandard curricula, which aren’t nearly as comprehensive as one might find at a fraction of the cost at community colleges.

However, APSCU is hardly alone in being complicit in higher-education scams. The parent company of the University of Phoenix, an institution often cited in cases of for-profit college grifting, is not a member of APSCU.

Accusations of heading a lobbying group for a corrupt industry aside, the reason for Miller’s resignation is unclear. It is likely related to the recent issuance of a new set of regulations by The Department of Education. According to Bloomberg:

The Education Department on June 2 published its ‘gainful employment’ rules that restrict government funds for education companies. Miller’s group led a lobbying campaign against the rules, which were softened from a draft version released last year.
The push to defeat the rules “brought all the resources of our sector together, and it included a lot of support from people in the minority community and the business community,” Miller said today in an interview. “We put maximum effort into representing the students.”

It would not be beyond the pale to posit that Miller might have resigned because APSCU did not achieve what it had set out to. Alternatively, he could have simply been fatigued after exerting “maximum effort” and felt the need to step aside.

If the Bloomberg index of For-Profit Education Companies is any indication, however, it may very well be because of the former. Before the “gainful employment” rules announcement on June 2nd, the Bloomberg U.S. For-Profit Education Index rose sharply, increasing to 634 from 552 overnight; an indication that investors believed a ruling favorable to for-profit colleges was imminent. Since June 2nd, however, the index has fallen to just around 560; it barely reacted to Miller’s resignation.

A spokesperson for APSCU did not comment directly about the reasons for Miller’s resignation, directing an inquiry about the matter to the aforementioned statement on the group’s website.

Miller joined APSCU in February 2007 after being defeated by current Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) in a 2006 primary. Prior to that, he had served as a president of both the Information Technology Association of America and the World Information Technology and Services Alliance.

Replacing Miller at APSCU in the interim will be Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel, Brian Moran, brother of Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA).

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.