In the world of for-profit education, this week brought big news: Corinthian Colleges announced Sunday that it’s closed each of its 28 colleges, effective immediately. The move, displacing 16,000 students, is “believed to be the biggest shutdown in the history of higher education in the United States.”
The news did not, however, come out of the blue. As NBC News reported, the Corinthian announcement came on the heels of a federal investigation in which the U.S. Department of Education alleged the enterprise “misrepresented job placement data and altered grades and attendance records.” The department said it would fine Corinthian $30 million for its suspected misdeeds.
Making matters worse, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused the for-profit colleges of using “inflated placement rates to recruit students,” who in turn took out “expensive private loans, which made up about 85 percent” of Corinthian’s revenue. The CFPB took the business to court to challenge the allegedly crooked business practices.
Given all of this, it’s only natural to wonder why Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) went to bat for Corinthian Colleges during the investigation into its allegedly corrupt business practices.
Last summer, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida asked the U.S. Department of Education to “demonstrate leniency” toward Corinthian Colleges by permitting the wealthy for-profit company to continue accessing millions of dollars in federal financial aid while it was cooperating with a federal investigation. […]The top-tier Republican presidential candidate had made his plea in a letter – obtained by Bloomberg Politics – dated June 20, 2014 and addressed to Jim Shelton, the deputy secretary of education, and Ted Mitchell, the undersecretary for post-secondary education.
Rubio’s letter argued that the Obama administration “can and should demonstrate leniency” towards Corinthian, despite the allegations of fraud. The same letter also complained about federal investigators placing “extreme financial constraints” on Corinthian, restricting the company’s “timely access to federal financial aid.”
Given the broader controversy, why did the Florida senator advocate on Corinthian’s behalf? Bloomberg Politics reported that Rubio “described his letter as written on behalf of his constituents.”
Rubio’s political action committee received $5,000 from Corinthian – a modest sum by today’s campaign-finance standards – but the report suggests the Republican’s ideology may have played a more direct role than financial considerations.
Rubio is a noted supporter of “alternative” forms of higher education, describing them in various speeches and statements as a way to help middle class Americans deal with rising tuition costs in an era where college degrees are increasingly vital to success. In 2014, he introduced legislation to encourage federal agencies to hire people with “alternative educational experience.” As recently as two days ago, Rubio tweeted about his education proposals. Ironically, his message mirrored that of Corinthian’s critics.
Two weeks ago, the Floridian pressed his message to students at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. “We have only one way of providing higher education in America, and that is, we tell everybody, ‘You either go to a traditional college or you go nowhere,’” he said, according to the New York Times. “That isn’t working.”
For what it’s worth, Rubio’s policy argument is badly flawed. Many students enroll in “traditional colleges” after graduating high school, but the alternative isn’t nothing – plenty of young people attend vocational training, enlist in the military, and/or enter apprenticeship programs. Rubio’s affinity for “alternative” pro-profit colleges has been built on a dubious premise.
And with Corinthian Colleges’ collapse, it’s causing him some political trouble, too.