There was a story posted this week on PoliticoPro, the subscription-based enhanced reporting sister site to Politico, that talked about the flurry of lobbying activity in Washington, D.C. as sides for and against the Department of Education’s proposed Gainful Employment Rule make their final, increased push to impact how the final rule will be shaped. Surprisingly, the article seemed to suggest that heightened lobbying activities by proprietary colleges are somehow unusual within the higher education space.
A story by The Atlantic more than two-and-a-half years ago strongly indicates otherwise.
In the January 2012 article titled “Don’t Blame For-Profit Colleges for the Higher-Ed Lobbying Epidemic”, writer Andrew Kelly, at the time a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and co-editor of Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation, writes that “when it comes to lobbying Congress and the president, for-profit colleges cannot hold a candle to America’s public and nonprofit colleges and universities.”
He cites a number of facts and figures that show how dramatically outspent proprietary colleges were by their non-profit and public counterparts when it comes to lobbying. To be fair, his numbers were from quite a few years ago at this point, so it won’t be particularly meaningful to cite them now for our purposes. But the point remains: retaining lobbyists does not reflect a corporate mindset of proprietary colleges. It is not a tactic exclusive to our community nor is it a new phenomenon within higher education’s proverbial corridors of power. Non-profits and public institutions, which would include those funded by state tax dollars, have been retaining lobbying firms to push their interests for years.
As Kelly so eloquently concluded in his piece: “With all eyes on for-profits, we lose sight of the fact that the weaknesses in our higher education system are not unique to a particular tax status. The for-profits didn’t invent higher education lobbying. They simply learned from the best: America’s beloved public and nonprofit universities.”
It would be unreasonable to expect proprietary colleges to sit idly by as the GE rule undeservedly threatens their programs simply because of their tax status. In fact, given that the long-term interests and educational access of so many students are on the line, we argue it would be irresponsible to not do everything possible to make our voices heard.