Durbin, Unions On Attack Against Private Sector Education

As Dick Durbin’s home state of Illinois reels from a credit downgrade and his constituents continue to face record unemployment rates and a rapidly fleeing business community, Durbin has taken it upon himself to handle a new priority: attacking for-profit education within his state by curbing their ability to market to military veterans.

Durbin has been on a crusade against for-profit education for some time, first going after the Art Institutes in his home state, and then leading attacks against the for-profit education industry nationwide. This latest ding against the industry comes under the flag of protecting veterans, whose benefits pay for educational expenses. Under the new plan, Durbin would handicap any for-profit college looking to market to veterans by clamping down on the amount of federal funding these colleges are able to receive, and counting military tuition toward that federal funding cap.

The proposed legislation, to be introduced today by Senate Democratic leaders, would require for-profit colleges to get no more than 85 percent of their revenue from federal programs, according to a summary from the office of Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, a co-sponsor. Colleges now can receive as much as 90 percent. They would lose federal funding for exceeding the cap for one year, instead of the current three.

Colleges solicit the military because their government tuition programs are excluded from the cap on federal money, said Senate education committee Chairman Tom Harkin, the other sponsor. The bill would eliminate that incentive by counting military money, according to Christina Mulka, a spokeswoman for Durbin, the majority whip, or No. 2 Senate Democrat.

Durbin coupled the proposed restructuring with a speech about how the government has a responsibility to regulate the marketing practices of the private sector to ensure that no target demographic is singled out in marketing materials, a proposition that should, no doubt, strike fear into the hearts of every advertising agency across the country. Once Dick Durbin has your industry in his sights, even your brochures are on the chopping block.

Other than the obvious problem with hindering the free market in the name of governments patrolling safety, this decision puts a severe handicap on members of the military who have long relied on the flexible, inexpensive education offered by for-profit schools. Veterans attend these institutions simply because they offer a more appealing alternative to community colleges and four-year non-profit schools which cater to more traditional students – not ones who return from service with extensive real world experience and valuable skills that for-profit schools have lately been able to translate into education. For profits appeal to the veteran community because they are serving a market other schools have yet to harness or serve well.

They are, of course, not without their flaws, but many colleges, non-profit and government-run included, have aggressive marketing practices and rely heavily on the government to provide resources for their students. It is exactly this problem that allowed millions of young people to pursue degrees with no hope of employment, but mountains of debt. It is simply unfair to say it is only the problem of for-profit schools and that for-profit schools should be the only ones to suffer restrictions.

Of course, for-profit schools are on the left’s list of targets du jour. Along with Dick Durbin, SEIU has piled on to for-profit schools, launching a website called For Profit U designed to “educate” students on how the free market is destroying education for everyone. Obviously, the SEIU has a more lucrative target in mind – unionizing the workers and teachers at for-profit schools and taking their money in union dues – but it’s clear that its a coordinated effort to take on a threatening prospect: colleges that are not simply voter mills for the Democratic party.