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Fourteen Attorneys General Support Harkin, Durbin, Cummings Bill to Improve Federal Oversight of For-Profit College Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, was joined by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) today in announcing that fourteen Attorneys General from around the country have expressed support for their legislation to improve coordination between federal agencies that oversee the for-profit college industry. 

Given the financial collapse of Corinthian Colleges, Inc., which has left 70,000 students in the lurch, it is clear that better oversight of the industry is needed to prevent future collapses that could put tens of thousands of students and millions of federal dollars in jeopardy. Through the establishment of an interagency oversight committee, the Proprietary Education Oversight Coordination Improvement Act aims to improve enforcement of federal laws and regulations while increasing accountability of for-profit colleges to students and taxpayers. 

“The bill is both timely and necessary as each of our offices have encountered far too many former and current for-profit school students who have been harmed by the dishonest and unethical practices of some for-profit institutions,” the Attorneys General wrote in a letter to Durbin, Harkin and Cummings. “The nationwide abuses by some for-profit colleges of Title IV funds are clear symptoms of a system that lacks appropriate oversight and real accountability. The undersigned Attorneys General support the Proprietary Education Oversight Coordination Improvement Act as a vehicle for improving oversight and accountability for the for-profit higher education industry.”

The following Attorneys General signed on to the letter: Dustin McDaniel (Arkansas), George Jepsen (Connecticut), Lisa Madigan (Illinois), Tom Miller (Iowa), Jack Conway (Kentucky), Janet T. Mills (Maine), Doug Gansler (Maryland), Jim Hood (Mississippi), Chris Koster (Missouri), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Gary King (New Mexico), Ellen Rosenblum (Oregon), Kathleen Kane (Pennsylvania) and Robert Cooper, Jr. (Tennessee).

“Since my investigation of for-profit colleges, the need for close cooperation between education, consumer protection, and financial focused agencies has become apparent,” Harkin said. “This bill will ensure that oversight of these companies continues and that suspect practices are more quickly identified and addressed. I am pleased to have the support of these Attorneys General as we continue our push to protect both students and taxpayers.”

“Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been a partner in the effort to crack down on these for-profit colleges that see aspiring students as nothing more than dollars signs that will be used to pad their bottom line. I am pleased to have her support and the support of thirteen other Attorneys General who have aggressively investigated these schools in their home states,” said Durbin. 

“It is clearly time to enact the kinds of reforms called for in the Proprietary Education Oversight Coordination Improvement Act,” Cummings said. “State Attorneys General need support from the federal government in making sure that for-profit colleges are not exploiting the federal student aid system and failing their students any longer.”

The legislation would require the formation of an interagency committee - the Proprietary Education Oversight Coordination Committee - made up of representatives from the following agencies: the Department of Education; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; the Department of Justice; the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Department of Defense; the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Federal Trade Commission; the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service.

“It is our hope that this bill will be passed and through the requirement of agency coordination and reporting, prevent future abuses of the student loan system by those in the for-profit colleges that are more interested in profit than educating tomorrow's workforce,” the Attorneys General continued.

The Proprietary Education Oversight Coordination Improvement Act requires the committee to:

  • Hold quarterly meetings as a group and annual meetings with State Attorneys General to coordinate federal and state activities related to for-profit school oversight;
  • Publish a whole-of-government report on the for-profit college industry in order to compile, in one place, student complaints, data about student outcomes and financial information related to executive compensation, marketing and other metrics;
  • Publish a warning list of schools that have engaged in illegal activities or for which there is sufficient evidence of widespread or systemic abusive, unethical, fraudulent or predatory practices.

The for-profit college industry receives more than $25 billion in federal dollars which is enough funding to make it the ninth largest federal agency. While they enroll only about 10 percent of all college students, they take in 20 percent of the Department of Education’s federal student aid funds and account for a disproportionate 46 percent of student loan defaults.