ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A move by some congressional Democrats to strengthen oversight of private, for-profit colleges and universities got a boost this month when it was endorsed by 14 state attorneys general, including New Mexico’s Gary King.
However, none of the state’s five-member congressional delegation, including the two Democratic senators, has signed on.
Senate Bill 2204 was introduced in April by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and has since picked up four co-sponsors – all Democrats. An identical bill, HR 4391, was introduced at the same time in the House of Representatives by Maryland’s Elijah Cummings.
The legislation is called the Proprietary Education Oversight Coordination Improvement Act. With the House controlled by Republicans, chances of passage are doubtful. However, the letter of endorsement from the 14 attorneys general gave supporters added hope.
“The bill is both timely and necessary as each of our offices have encountered far too many former and current for-profit school students who have been harmed by the dishonest and unethical practices of some for-profit institutions,” the letter stated.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who represents northern New Mexico, said, “I will take a close look at the full impact this legislation would have. … I appreciate the views of the Attorneys General, including Gary King, on this issue.”
Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Steve Pearce, R-N.M., did not respond to requests for comment.
The legislation would establish an interagency committee that would provide Congress with annual reports on for-profit colleges.
The panel also would be required to create a “For-Profit Warning List for Parents and Students” of schools that would include such phrasing as: engaged in illegal activities the previous year as determined by a state or federal court; entered into a settlement resulting in a monetary payment; had a higher education program withdrawn or suspended; “sufficient evidence of widespread or systemic unfair, deceptive, abusive, unethical, fraudulent, or predatory practices, policies, or procedures that threaten the academic success, financial security, or general best interest of students,” according to a summary by the Congressional Research Library, a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress.
The bills would also encourage information sharing among federal agencies and between federal and state offices.
In a statement, Durbin’s office said for-profit colleges receive 20 percent of federal student loan funding but enroll 10 percent of all college students. Some Democrats have complained that for-profit colleges disproportionately take federal funds without providing students with valuable workforce skills.
David Urias, an Albuquerque attorney whose firm represents several former ITT Technical Institute nursing students in a lawsuit against the private school, said the legislation, as he understands it, is “something that is long overdue.”
Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., released statements indicating concern about the issue but not addressing the bill specifically.