University of Phoenix Paradox: Republicans May Want to End Department of Education, But Favor Funding For-Profit Colleges


On Tuesday the House of Representatives engaged in what was one of the most glaring exercises in ideological hypocrisy in recent memory. By a 303-114 vote, the House passed H.R. 2117 — the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act, introduced by Republican Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. Of the relationship between the federal government and higher education, Foxx has said:

“I have a philosophical belief that the federal government should basically not be involved in higher education. The Constitution is very clear. The founders said if it wasn’t given as a responsibility of the federal government then it’s left to the states or the individuals.”

Given that Foxx sits on the Subcommittee on Higher Education, it would seem that House Republicans have a sense of humor.

The Foxx-sponsored H.R. 2117, which the Obama administration opposes, states that its intent is, “To prohibit the Department of Education from overreaching into academic affairs and program eligibility under title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.”

This must clearly mean that her bill is designed to rein in the Department of Education in some fashion, right? Well, no. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Foxx’s legislation is designed to prevent a new rule from taking effect that actually limits the DoE to making federal loans available only to students attending accredited universities.

The implications of this new DOE rule, set to take effect in July 2014, are huge for for-profit institutions, such as the University of Phoenix. A staggering 90% of for-profit college revenue comes from the federal government. Under current regulations, DoE provides loans to students at for-profit colleges if those institutions have received accreditation, or to students at non-accredited satellite colleges of flagship universities that have been. But in accordance with the new regulations DoE will require all institutions, including satellite colleges, of higher learning to receive accreditation as a precondition for the issuance of loans to students at those colleges.

However, Foxx, who this election cycle received a $2,500 campaign contribution from the University of Phoenix’s parent company, Apollo Group, wants to put a stop to that. This great crusader against big government and its pernicious and unconstitutional involvement in higher education wants to ensure that federal student loans for for-profit colleges keep coming. And that’s not even the best part.

The best part is that not a single House Republican voted against this bill, which you would think would be extremely unpalatable for a party forever insisting the federal government is out of control and that DoE especially should be eliminated or drastically downsized. But apparently, expanding government is just fine when the goal is to transfer public money to the coffers of for-profit colleges, where nearly half of all student loan defaults occur despite the fact that they have only 10% of the nation’s college students. This is hardly surprising, as the dubious recruiting practices and even fraudulent activity at these institutions are well-documented. These would include for-profits specifically targeting veterans for matriculation under misleading pretenses, as these institutions received more than half of the $563 million allotted by the Department of Defense for veterans’ tuition assistance in 2011.

The next time you hear Republicans hemming and hawing about how there’s too much federal involvement in our lives, remember this vote and so many others like it, where Republicans tossed their beloved philosophy of small government out the window in order to funnel taxpayer money into the pockets of their preferred cabals in the private sector.

Photo Credit: Eric Hamiter