Student loan debt continues to be one of the largest economic issues plaguing the U.S., with the total amount topping $1.3 trillion. Hillary Clinton's higher education policy touts debt-free degrees for underprivileged students. But is she being genuine in her efforts to address the issue?
While Hillary loves to rail against shady for-profit colleges on the campaign trail, she does have some financial ties to them that are likely to shape whether or not she holds them accountable for ripping students off.
It was recently revealed through Hillary's emails that during her first year as Secretary of State she insisted that Laureate Education be included in the guest list for an education policy dinner hosted at the U.S. Department of State.
"It's a for-profit model that should be represented," she wrote in the August 2009 email, and as a result, a senior vice president at Laureate was added to the guest list. Several months later, former President Bill Clinton became an honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities, which turned out to be incredibly lucrative. He was paid a cool $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014 for his role with the for-profit college.
Why is this such a big deal?
For-profit colleges have been investigated and shut down in recent years for breaking various state and federal laws. Federal investigations discovered that for-profits have been using deceptive recruiting techniques by inflating job placement numbers while targeting underprivileged youth and veterans. Potential students are encouraged to take out massive amounts of federal student loan debt with the promise of a great post-graduation job, which many never get.
This all leads to a pretty high price tag for American taxpayers.
The Brookings Institute found that of all students who started repaying their federal student loans in 2011, only 8 percent of those who went to traditional four-year schools defaulted within two years. By contrast, the default rate was almost three times as high for students who went to for-profits.
The huge disparity might be due to the fact that 70 percent of those who attend four-year public or private universities finish their degrees, while only 49 percent of students at for-profit colleges do.
Also consider that while 12 percent of the country's students go to for-profits, a whopping 96 percent of them have to take out federal loans. As a result, for-profit colleges account for 25 percent of all federal financial aid dollars and half of all Department of Defense Tuition Assistance funds.
Some may argue that not all for-profit colleges are created equal, and it's unfair to group Laureate together with the now defunct Corinthian Colleges, which was forced to cease all U.S. operations due to various state and federal investigations. But Laureate seems to be plagued with similar issues. That's why the company decided to expand in Latin American countries rather than the U.S. with the help of Bill Clinton.
There are five schools in the U.S. that operate under Laureate's umbrella. Walden University is a Laureate school in Minneapolis, and even though its parent company had the money to pay our former president $4 million a year, Walden charges students nearly $60,000 in tuition and fees for most undergraduate degrees. According to CNBC:
"...critics of Laureate's Walden University in Minnesota claimed professors were inaccessible and that continual delays stretched out the time — and thus money needed — to earn an advanced degree. Three students have filed a lawsuit against Walden, hoping to make it a class-action suit, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, violations of state consumer protection and unfair competition laws."
Another Laureate school, The NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego, charges undergraduate architecture students $8,646 per quarter in tuition alone. Kendall College's tuition is just as outrageous.
While the tuition at some private non-profit universities like USC are just as high, keep in mind that all funds are used toward the university rather than turning a profit. In other words, there are no investors, and there is a prohibition on personal profiteering by institutional decision-makers known as the non-distribution constraint. By contrast, for-profit colleges have investors who see education as a lucrative business opportunity rather than a chance to provide affordable quality education to students.
Laureate gets 84 percent of its revenue from outside the U.S., and mostly from Latin American countries. The company faced a great deal backlash in Chile and Brazil, leading to the loss of accreditation for one of its Chilean schools in 2014.
Chile's National Accreditation Commission cited low graduation rates, a sharp increase in student enrollment without faculty numbers keeping pace and low faculty salaries. It's classic behavior these schools to cut costs and increase revenue. Again, these institutions are run like businesses looking to increase profits.
According to The Washington Post, critics also argue Laureate spends too much money on marketing, executive salaries and recruitment of students rather than on quality education.
Hillary's biggest challenge against Bernie Sanders is how much money in politics has influenced her policy decisions. While both candidates address combating student loan debt and college affordability in very different ways, it's critical to follow the money and figure out who is being sincere about solving the problem.
The truth is that Hillary's higher ed policy isn't very different from what we have in place now, which I will delve into in my upcoming column. Now her ties to the for-profit college industry make me question whether she'll hold them accountable if she got elected.
Clinton herself was paid $225,000 for speaking at a 2014 event sponsored by Academic Partnerships, a for-profit education company that helps public and private not-for-profit universities move degree programs online. Jeb Bush was also one of its investors.
The country needs a leader who will look out for a generation that's more and more discouraged about their economic future, and it's hard to believe all her tough talk against entities that hurt students when she's profiting from them.