WASHINGTON — The debate over for-profit colleges that has had members of Congress arguing for months may now be seeping into the presidential race.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans a campaign stop Sunday at the for-profit NASCAR Technical Institute outside Charlotte – a show of support for an industry that has been hammered by Democrats in recent months.
Caught in the middle are the tens of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are looking to finish their education and rejoin the work force.
Those veterans are turning heavily to for-profit institutions; a recent Senate Democratic committee report found that eight of the top 10 colleges receiving post-9/11 GI Bill money from the Department of Veterans Affairs are for-profit institutions.
The for-profit college industry came under fire this year after the report found that taxpayers spent $32 billion last year on the industry. Fifteen of the largest for-profit colleges received 86 percent of their revenues from federal student aid programs, according to the report, issued by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The issue is playing out in military-heavy states such as North Carolina, California, Georgia and Texas, which have large populations of veterans.
“They’re really preyed upon by some of these schools,” said retired Marine Col. Robert Songer, the former director of lifelong learning and education services at Camp Lejeune, N.C. “By the time they came to me it was usually too late. . . . The schools sign them up for a Pell Grant (and) one, sometimes two student loans, and the student has no idea of this.”
The schools have a strong incentive to enroll service members and veterans, in large part because of the “90/10 rule,’’ which puts a 90 percent cap on the amount of annual revenue a for-profit college may receive from federal student-aid programs. But veterans’ and military benefits don’t count toward that 90 percent, and instead are counted as nonfederal funding.
Read more: The State