Durbin Asks National Urban League to Support Effort to Protect Students and Taxpayers from Abuses in the For-profit College Industry
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In a speech to the National Urban League, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today asked the organization to support the effort by the Obama Administration and members of Congress to protect students and taxpayers from abuses within the for-profit college industry. Acknowledging that many for-profit colleges are good actors and do important work, Durbin noted that the bad actors could cause us to repeat the mistakes of the subprime mortgage crisis by saddling a generation of young people with mountains of debt and worthless diplomas.
“One of the claims you see most often in their ads is that for-profit schools offer a passport to the middle class for low-income students who for too long have been shut out of college – especially people of color,” said Durbin. “Sound familiar? It’s the same pitch that a lot of shady mortgage brokers and bankers used to sell risky, overpriced, subprime mortgages to people who for too long had been locked out of homeownership. We know how that story ended.
“We can’t afford to repeat that mistake with Pell grants. We can’t afford to saddle a generation of young people with mountains of debt and worthless diplomas. I hope that the National Urban League will join us so that we can continue to move American forward, with genuine opportunity for all.”
Durbin has been speaking with various groups over the last few months to gain support for the Congressional effort to protect students and taxpayers from the worst excesses of the for-profit college industry. Most recently, Durbin called on the leaders of over 300 colleges and universities to become ‘better stewards of taxpayer dollars’ by doing more to ensure those investments are matched with student achievement. Durbin called on schools to make certain students are completing degrees and gaining useful knowledge, not just piling up mountains of student loan debt. A link to video of Durbin’s speech to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities can be found at the bottom of this page.
[Text of Durbin’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below]
Remarks by Senator Richard J. Durbin
Assistant Majority Leader, United States Senate
National Urban League 8th Annual Policy Conference
March 30, 2011
I want to thank Mayor Mark Morial for those generous words – and for his eloquent and inspired leadership at CEO of the National Urban League.
I also want to recognize: your outstanding chairman, John Hofmeister; and a friend from home, Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
I am honored to join you in celebrating the beginning of the National Urban League’s second full century fighting for equal opportunity … economic security … and civil rights … for all Americans.
I’m from Springfield, Illinois. One year before the National Urban League was born, 2,000 people gathered in Springfield to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the greatest person ever to come out of Springfield, Abraham Lincoln.
At that banquet there were Ambassadors, Senators, Civil War veterans, Mr. Lincoln’s son and even a former Presidential candidate – but not a single person of color. Hard to believe now, but the official celebration of the Great Emancipator’s 100th birthday was a segregated affair.
Not to be left out, the African American community of Springfield organized their own Lincoln centennial at the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
At that dinner, a local minister looked out into the future and predicted that 100 years from then, Americans would have – in his words – “banished all prejudice as a myth relegated to the dark days of Salem witchcraft.”
We all know we haven’t reached that Promised Land yet. But 100 years to the day after that minister offered his prediction, there was another dinner in my hometown to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
And the guest of honor, the main speaker, was another brilliant, lanky President from Illinois by the name of Barack Obama.
America has come a long way in the century since the National Urban League was founded– thanks in no small part to the people in this room and the courageous leaders who came before you.
We can be proud of what we have achieved. But we can’t be content. We can’t rest. Not when nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed and millions more are underemployed.
America created 1.1 million new jobs last year and private sector job growth has continued for 12 consecutive months – something we haven’t seen in years.
But too many families --- particularly African American families – are still hurting badly from the effects of the Great Recession.
Our top priority now must be protecting this hard-won and still fragile economic recovery and getting Americans back to work.
We can’t afford to just go back to the way things were before the Great Recession. We need to rebuild support for our middle class, and restore the rungs on the ladder of opportunity so that more families can climb out of poverty.
You have come to Washington at a critical time. We’re halfway through this fiscal year. But, as you may have heard, Congress has been having a little trouble agreeing on a budget for the remainder of this year.
As a result, we’ve been funding the government like a winter coat on layaway – in installments.
We are now operating on our sixth short-term funding bill – “continuing resolutions” or “CRs,” as they’re called in Washington.
On one level, this funding standoff is about numbers – about how much and how fast we can reduce the deficit.
In the Senate, we’ve already cut more than $40 billion from what the President recommended for this fiscal year. Those are very serious cuts.
But the new Republican majority in the House wants to cut much deeper. They have passed a budget plan – H.R. 1 -- that cuts $100 billion from the budget over the next six months.
We agree that America’s deficits and our growing national debt are serious problems.
We are now borrowing 40 cents for every dollar we spent – much of it from China. That is dangerous and unsustainable. We have to get spending under control – but not by sacrificing this recovery and America’s future.
In a larger sense, this is really a debate about what kind of country we want to live in.
I oppose the House Republican plan because it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs – this year.
I oppose the House Republican plan because it makes all of its cuts in a very small part of the budget that accounts for just 12 percent of the total federal budget – but within that 12 percent are federal investments in education, health care, job training, research and development and other priorities for our future.
One example: The House Republican budget cuts by 20 percent National Institutes of Health clinical trials on new treatments that have the potential to save lives – and save money.
I recently visited the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and spoke with an oncologist who is working on one of those clinical trials. He said: “I have 100 people suffering from cancer who are gravely ill, and unfortunately I can only put 80 of them in a clinical trial because of these budget cutbacks. Senator, which ones should I turn away?”
The National Urban League is a leader in the effort to expand job training.
Which workers should we deny a chance to learn new skills so that she can find a good-paying job in this new economy?
Which beautiful little 3- and 4-year old children should we drop from the Head Start rolls?
There’s one more issue I want to mention. The President is right. If we want to ensure that innovation produces good jobs in America and not just overseas, we need to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”
That is why we cut the middle-man out of the student loan business and used the savings to make college more affordable for millions of students.
We increased the maximum Pell grants.
This is a personal priority for me. You see, I was raised in East St. Louis, Illinois. My mother was widowed when I was young.
I depended on federal loans to go to college. If America hadn’t invested in my future and my education, I wouldn’t be standing here today.
That is why I have always voted to support Pell grants. And it’s why I am deeply troubled – and a little angry – when I see what is happening the Pell grants today.
Pell grants are in serious peril – not just because of threatened cuts by our friends on the other side of the aisle, but because of the actions of many for-profit colleges.
I know this is a controversial issue.
We don’t have time to go into all the details, but let me give you some basic facts:
For-profit colleges are the fastest-growing segment of higher education. They’re also, on average, the most expensive.
For-profit colleges educate less than 10 percent of all college students – but they consume 25 percent of all Pell grant dollars.
Now, that might be a good investment – if students were receiving education and job training that helps people take the next step up the economic ladder. And let me be clear – there are many good for-profit colleges that do just that.
But there are also a lot of bad for-profit schools that are raking in huge amounts of federal dollars and leaving students poorly trained and over their heads in debt.
If students default of their student loans because they can’t find work – and 44 percent of all student loan defaults are students from for-profit colleges -- the consequences are horrendous. Their credit is ruined. They are ineligible for most federal jobs. They can’t get any more loans to get a degree that could really help them. And they can’t get rid of the debt in bankruptcy court.
I’ve been in a lot of debates in the years I’ve been in Congress. I’ve taken on the tobacco industry, the credit card industry and big banks. But I’ve never – ever -- seen a lobbying effort like the one for-profit colleges are waging to keep hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer dollars coming their way. It’s like a full-employment programs for former members of Congress.
One of the claims you see most often in their ads is that for-profit schools offer a passport to the middle class for low-income students who for too long have been shut out of college – especially people of color.
Sound familiar? It’s the same pitch that a lot of shady mortgage brokers and bankers used to sell risky, overpriced, subprime mortgages to people who for too long had been locked out of homeownership.
We know how that story ended. The greatest destruction of wealth for African American families in history. Whole neighborhoods decimated by foreclosure.
We can’t afford to repeat that mistake with Pell grants. We can’t afford to saddle a generation of young people with mountains of debt and worthless diplomas.
I’ve tossed out a bunch of numbers. Let me give you just one more: The top executives for the top 15 for-profit colleges pulled in $2 billion last year. Two billion dollars, practically all taxpayer money.
Do we really want to dig our deficit hole deeper and saddle lower- and middle-class students with debt in order to bring profits to wealthy corporations and shareholders? I don’t think so.
I hope that the National Urban League will join us so that we can continue to move American forward, with genuine opportunity for all. Thank you.
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