Takano champions PRO Students Act

Crystal Olmedo | Staff Writer

Sept. 18, 2014

A local congressman is pushing for stricter regulations on for-profit colleges and the fair treatment of their students.

Rep.Mark Takano, D-Riverside, proposed legislation that will protect students from for-profit colleges and place stringent regulations on such institutions, fittingly named, the Protections and Regulations for Our Students Act, on July 30. Takano is collaborating with Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., on this legislation.

The US Department of the Treasury reports that college enrollments have increased exponentially over the past 25 years, and according to the US Department of Education 13 percent of the total number of students enrolled in higher-education institutions are enrolled in proprietary colleges. Proprietary or “for-profit” colleges offer short term degree and certification programs for those who are already committed to a job and require the convenience of online or evening classes, and the opportunity to apply for student loans.

For-profit schools under the 90/10 Rule must acquire no more than 90 percent of their revenues from Title IV federal student aid,  according to the U.S. Department of Education. A similar rule exists for veteran student funding, in which no more than 85 percent of an institution’s students receive veteran funding.  The PRO Students Act would require 15 percent of for-profit college revenues to come from sources other than federal student aid, military and veteran education benefits.

Rep. Takano hosted State Superintendent Tom Torlakson at an Educators Town Hall Meeting Sept. 4, at the Riverside County Office of Education, where Takano spoke about the PRO Students Act.

“It’s simply wrong that 13 percent of the students on Federal Financial Aid, who go to these for-profit colleges, account for 50 percent of all loan defaults,” Takano said.

Takano shared his insight gathered by serving as an instructor for the Rialto Unified School District.

“I noticed that many of the students that I was trying to prepare for the High School Exit Exam … were being heavily marketed to by for-profit colleges,” Takano said. “Nearly every single one of them was saying that they were not going to go to a county program or to RCC or Valley College, but that they were intending to go to a for profit college.”

During this meeting Takano commented on for-profit marketing tactics and the need for better academic alternatives.

“Very often, for-profits spend more on the marketing than they spend on educating students,” Takano said.  “I have to commend the Obama Administration because they actually, I think, do get the problem. The Secretary of Education, in conjunction with 37 State’s Attorney Generals, has been trying to crack down on some of the worst actors, but we definitely need more action in Congress to ram this problem.”

Takano referenced Corinthian Colleges’ breakup as an example of a for-profit college in California that had “gone down,” due to misconduct.  The collapse of Corinthian Colleges was due to alleged lawsuit claims that the Santa Ana based institution was “falsifying grades, job-placement data, luring students with non-existent programs and pushing them into high-interest, subprime loans they can’t repay,” according to a report by Bloomberg.com.

Representatives for Corinthian Colleges declined Viewpoints request for an interview.

If the legislation passes it will also benefit less fortunate students and provide more resources and advocates for students to make well-informed decisions regarding their educational needs.

“… The PRO Students Act … will address these abuses. They particularly target low income students … single moms, and they also target our veterans,” Takano said. “The downside is that we still have to provide opportunities for all these folks, and we have to find a way to recommit ourselves to a robust public education system … and we have to make our higher education system affordable.”

According to Takano, the legislative language of the bill is being perfected and its projected introduction will take place in Oct., depending on its reception by voters.  Takano demonstrated his dedication to the PRO Students Act by his comments on the current under-regulated state of the for-profit college sector and the students that are affected by it.

“Students need more support, not more bad actors,” Takano said, and he suggested that students should consider utilizing resources such as county vocational programs to avoid getting into, “debt for what is often a worthless degree.”