by David Safier

This is a textbook case of how ALEC, corporations and Republican legislatures work together.


For-profit colleges have been scamming students and taxpayers for years. Students are often left with huge loans to pay off after receiving near-worthless education, while the colleges get 90% of their revenues from federal student grants and loans. The Obama administration's Department of Education planned to tighten regulations to cut down on the excesses of the for-profit colleges, which led to what a Huffington Post article called "an unprecedented lobbying and campaign finance offensive over the past year by the for-profit college industry." The final regulations were a watered down version of the original DOE draft.

One lobbying tactic was to get state legislatures lined up behind the for-profit colleges. That's where ALEC came in. APSCU, the Association of Private Sector [read, for-profit] Colleges and Universities, organized a significant chunk of the lobbying effort, including setting up a front group, "Students for Academic Choice." It also drafted a resolution for ALEC supporting the colleges, which it bragged about on its website:

The American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC] unanimously approved a resolution in support of private sector colleges and universities. . . . APSCU and Corinthian Colleges’ Paul DeGuisti and Melissa Garrett of Bridgepoint Education worked with ALEC on the resolution.

AZ State Senator Nancy Barto (R, LD-7) was the sole sponsor of SCR 1005, "A Concurrent Resolution Expressing Support for Fair and Equal Access to Private Sector Colleges." (Barto, by the way, was named an ALEC Legislator of the Year at the recent conference in New Orleans). After listing a litany of strengths of for-profit colleges, like the ethnic diversity of their student bodies (mainly because they recruit down-on-their luck people with dubious promises of better jobs), the resolution decried the U.S. Department of Education's consideration of "rules that may adversely impact hundreds of thousands of students attending private sector colleges and universities and that are antithetical to the President's goal of the United States once again having the highest proportion of college graduation in the world by 2020." It concludes,

[T]he Members of the Legislature support the goal of increasing the number of college graduates among American students, support laws and regulations that promote fair and equal access to all sectors of higher education and encourage career aspirations that are a matter of choice for those pursuing a higher education.

Barto did no work drafting this resolution, though, to her credit, she openly acknowledged ALEC's role:

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1005 is based on the Resolution in Support of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which was adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council in January of this year.

The resolution passed unanimously in the House and Senate. Every Democrat and every Republican voted for it. After all, who wants to have it pointed out at election time they voted against "the goal of increasing the number of college graduates among American students"? I mean, look, skeptical legislators probably said to themselves, it's just a resolution, so it doesn't affect what happens in Arizona.

The identical resolution passed in Georgia. I have no doubt it passed in lots of other states as well.

This was just one more way, along with a lobbying campaign including op eds, letters to the editor, astroturf groups, letters to Congressmembers and a steady barrage of high pressure lobbying from high pressure lobbyists, that the Obama administration was warned, they'd better go easy on the for-profit colleges. And go easy they did.

I've created a document with the Arizona resolution, SCR1005, and the ALEC model side by side so you can see how the two versions line up.

[Thanks again to Lisa Hoffman for the research she added to this post.]