On College Decision Day, Durbin Warns Students About Dangers Of Attending Predatory For-Profit Colleges

Durbin also applauded the Biden Administration for approving $250 million in borrower defense claims for nearly 13,000 Illinois students who attended the fraudulent Illinois Institute of Art

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor recognizing College Decision Day and warning students about the dangers of choosing to attend a for-profit college.  Durbin began his remarks by sharing the story of Illinoisan LaKesha Howard-Williams, who attended the for-profit Illinois Institute of Art after it pressured her to take out student loans, but shuttered before she could earn a degree.

“Today is May 1.  For many students, this is College Decision Day – about the time when they have to commit for next year’s school year to pave a pathway for a better future.  For Chicagoan LaKesha Howard-Williams, a straight-A student who dreamed of attending college to pursue art, this was certainly the case,” Durbin began.  “LaKesha was accepted to a non-profit college outside of Chicago, but she decided to move back home and transfer to a community college near her home.”

Like many Americans, LaKesha’s family was financially impacted by the 2008 recession, losing their home shortly before her father passed away.  To help support her family, LaKesha left the community college she was attending to work full-time.  Eventually, LaKesha began weighing options to finish her education.

“As she began researching scholarships, LaKesha was flooded with brochures for a for-profit college, the Illinois Institute of Art...  After being heavily pursued by the Illinois Institute of Art, LaKesha applied to it.  They accepted her within days of her application and immediately encouraged her to take out student loans.  This was the first sign of foul play,” Durbin said.

Following a classic move from the for-profit college playbook, the Illinois Institute of Art urged LaKesha to sign up for a mountain of student debt while offering her little support or educational return.  In 2017, the Dream Center bought out the Illinois Institute of Art, peddling the falsehood that the school would improve under new leadership.  Instead, they suddenly shuttered its doors.

“The final red flag? The school lost its accreditation – something it hid from its students for six months.  Then, it suddenly announced it would close at the end of the year,” Durbin said.  “LaKesha was able to transfer.  But before moving to a better quality school, she estimated that she would have more than $70,000 in student loans.”

As Durbin noted in his remarks, LaKesha’s story is not unusual.  For years, for-profit colleges have lined their pockets at the expense of students and taxpayers, deliberately targeting low-income students, first-generation students, veterans, and students of color with aggressive marketing tactics and false promises of well-paying jobs.  Then, these for-profit schools enroll students into programs that offer low-quality instruction, substandard job prospects, nontransferable course credits, and worthless degrees.  As a result, despite enrolling only eight percent of America’s college students, for-profit colleges’ students account for 30 percent of federal student loan defaults.

For more than a decade, Durbin has worked to hold for-profit colleges accountable for their fraudulent practices, and he has called on multiple presidential administrations to discharge the loans of students preyed upon by for-profit schools.  Today, the Biden Administration announced that 317,000 students who attended the Art Institutes finally will see student loan relief.

“This morning, the Department of Education announced $6.1 billion in student loan discharges for 317,000 students who attended the Art Institutes, including LaKesha.  In Illinois alone, nearly 13,000 students will see more than $250 million in borrower defense discharges,” Durbin said.

“In its investigation, the Department found that the Art Institutes misrepresented their employment rates to the prospective students… falsified income data for graduates, and denied career services to their graduates.  They learn, unfortunately, years after they get started, that they have a worthless investment.  The Department found similar deceptive practices at other colleges like DeVry in Chicago, which promoted false job placement rates, and Grand Canyon University… lied to students about the costs of its programs,” said Durbin.  “It is long past time we hold these profit-hungry, fraudulent institutions accountable.”

“The sad part, the tragic part, the infuriating part is that the owners of these for-profit operations take all that money from student loans, offer nothing in return by way of education, and eventually when they go bankrupt, and they virtually all do, they end up off the hook.  They don’t have any personal liability,” Durbin continued.

Durbin concluded his remarks by urging school administrators, counselors, and teachers to warn students of the dangers of attending a for-profit college as students commit to their plans for higher education. 

“I’ve been calling for greater scrutiny of for-profit colleges for more than ten years on the floor of the Senate.  Aside from flying in the face of providing a high-quality postsecondary education, these for-profit colleges are costing taxpayers millions of dollars.  Despite well-documented misconduct, for-profit colleges received more than $14 billion in federal student aid in the 2022-2023 school year,” Durbin said.

“That is why today, I am sending my warning letter, it’s the 11th consecutive year in a row. I send it to every high school in my state, asking them to ensure students receive accurate information about the college they want to attend, including the risks associated with attending a for-profit college… These for-profit schools undermine all of the work and resources high schools devote to students.  And warnings to avoid them can be the difference between a successful future, and one saddled with a lifetime of student debt,” Durbin said.

“Let’s make sure that no young person gets conned into attending a duplicitous, profit-driven institution,” Durbin concluded.

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the floor is available here for TV Stations.