Big turnout for hearing on for-profit colleges

WLS (ABC) 7 Chicago
August 31, 2010
By: Leah Hope

(CHICAGO) (WLS) -- Hundreds turned out Tuesday for a hearing about for-profit colleges, the debt many students who attend them are left with, and the education they receive.

Many college graduates say they are left deeply in debt and without proper certification to get a job. But some others say the federal funding to help students attend these schools is badly needed.

The federal government is considering new rules to help students after graduation and keep better track of taxpayer dollars spent at these institutions.

Senator Dick Durbin called the hearing. He said he was hearing too many stories where the student was lured into school debt by clever advertising and false promises.

Some students got a pass on class Tuesday. They were rallying to protect federal funding for for-profit colleges.

Durbin held the hearing about for-profit schools at the Dirksen Federal Building. He says most for-profit schools get 75-90 percent of their revenue from the federal government.

"If you are recruiting a student who you know is not likely to graduate and not likely to pay back the student loan, the loser is not only the student who is stuck with a student loan, the loser is the federal tax payer," said Durbin.

The senator asked some students to testify. Plainfield woman Michelle Zuver said she was the first in her family to go to college. But, after leaving the for-profit college, she says she was not certified to work in her field and owes $85,000.

"It's been almost two years since I graduated, and I have yet to find work in law enforcement that uses my degree," said Zuver.

Senator Durbin had tough questions for some college administrators about the amount spent on advertising, lack of accreditation and the amount of student debt uncollected.

"What is the morality of sticking a kid with 30, 40, $50,000 in debt that they can't pay back because there's no job they can fill?" said Durbin.

"The stories you're hearing, the anecdotes you're hearing, I believe are not the norm in our industry," said Gary McCullough, Career Education Corporation.

The presidents of Illinois Institutes of Art Chicago and Schaumburg did not testify but argue that bad apples shouldn't jeopardize federal funding for all for-profit schools, as they claim to offer education to students who couldn't afford more expensive schools. Some of their students were rallied Tuesday morning.

"Most of the people here aren't rich," said Illinois Institute of Art student Alicia Laury. "They don't just spew money. They just can't pay for it right then. They need grants. They need the financial aid, and if they don't have it, how are they going to go to these schools?"

Senator Durbin wants to prohibit federal money be used for advertising. And, if false advertising is used, he says the school should pay the student's debt. In addition he wants to see all schools accredited at the same level and to set limits on the amount of debt students can take on.