Sen. Marco Rubio asked the U.S. Education Department to “demonstrate leniency” toward a for-profit college network that admitted to falsifying its job placement rates and yet received millions of dollars in federal financial aid while under both state and federal investigations.
In the summer of 2014, Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC received $5,000 from Corinthian Colleges, according to Open Secrets. Bloomberg reported that in the same year, Rubio wrote to deputy secretary of education Jim Shelton and undersecretary for post-secondary education Ted Mitchell regarding Corinthian’s situation. The senator from Florida asked that federal funds continue to flow to Corinthian despite its numerous investigations for fraud.
It has been brought to my attention that the U.S. Department of Education has recently placed extreme financial constraints on Corinthian Colleges, Inc. by restricting the company’s timely access to federal financial aid. It is my understanding the Department of Education has requested extensive documents be provided by Corinthian Colleges for review, and Corinthian has acted in good faith to try to provide these documents as expeditiously as possible.
While I commend the Department’s desire to protect our nation’s students from fraudulent and malicious activity by any institution of higher education, regardless of tax status, I believe the Department can and should demonstrate leniency as long as Corinthian Colleges, Inc. continues to expeditiously and earnestly cooperate by providing the documents requested.
Mitchell responded to Rubio that the federal investigation uncovered “systemic deficiencies” in the company’s operations and informed him that the organization had “admitted to falsifying placement rates and/or grade and attendance records at various institutions.”
Corinthian Colleges once operated more than 100 campuses across the United States – including in Rubio’s home state of Florida.
Ten months after Rubio made the request for leniency – and following years of federal and state investigations – Corinthian Colleges was fined $30 million by the Education Department for “confirmed cases of misrepresentation of job placement rates” for about 950 students. Corinthian Colleges hurriedly closed up its remaining 28 campuses – leaving approximately 16,000 students without schools. In its final year of operation, however, Corinthian reportedly said it had received $1.2 billion in federal student loans.
After announcing his candidacy for president last year, Rubio described his letter that requested leniency for Corinthian as an attempt to protect students from being displaced.
“Senator Rubio felt it was important to protect the thousands of students in Florida from being punished and having their educations disrupted while the investigation was underway,” Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon told Bloomberg Politics. “His priority has always been to improve access to higher education options and increase transparency in higher education.”
Ironically, as Breitbart News reported, on the campaign trail the senator has been advocating for the very form of transparency of job placement rates and school accountability that Corinthian Colleges failed to provide – yet Rubio went to bat for the college network.
Rubio said recently in New Hampshire:
Before you take on a loan, the school has to tell you – here’s how much people make from our school when they graduate with the degree that you’re seeking – why is that important? Let me tell you why that’s important…because maybe you’re trying to choose between two schools. One of them costs $20,000 and people that graduate from there with your degree make $50 grand. The other school costs $100,000 and people who graduate from there made $50 grand. So, two schools – you graduate and you make the same amount of money – but one costs $100,000 and a lot of loans, and the other costs $20,000. We don’t have that information now. Students have to make up their mind based on reputation, based on what they read in U.S. News & World Report.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 28, 2015
The Education Department has been highly critical of for-profit colleges, and also subsequently saw a political opportunity to capitalize on the support of young people following the Corinthian Colleges debacle.
After the fraud charges, Corinthian filed for bankruptcy, and – in June of 2015 – USED announced it would forgive the federal loans of tens of thousands of Corinthian students, reported the New York Times.
“You’d have to be made of stone not to feel for these students,” then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Some of these schools have brought the ethics of payday lending into higher education.”
Duncan also said the department planned to develop a system to allow any student —from Corinthian or elsewhere — to be forgiven their loans if they had been defrauded by their colleges.
According to the Times:
Taxpayers could pay a huge price for forgiving so many federal loans; the government has never before opened debt relief to such a potentially large pool of students. The department estimated that if all 350,000 Corinthian students over the last five years applied for and received the debt relief, that cost alone could be as much as $3.5 billion.
The Rubio campaign did not respond to Breitbart News’ request for comment.