July 23, 2020

Senators Warren, Hassan, Durbin, and Brown Lead Colleagues in Opposing COVID-19 Bailout for Predatory For-Profit Colleges

For-Profit Colleges Have Boosted Enrollment, Taken Advantage of Pandemic with Deceptive Advertising Campaigns to Lure in Vulnerable Students

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, and Pensions (HELP) Committee,along with Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), led a group of their colleagues in calling for upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation to exclude federal funding for predatory for-profit colleges. If legislation does include support of for-profit colleges, the senators raise specific limits that should be included in the legislation to hold for-profit colleges accountable.

Many for-profit colleges have a troubling history of misleading students – including service members and veterans – about potential job prospects and graduation rates, and often saddle students with crippling debt. 

“As you prepare additional legislation to alleviate the health and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), we respectfully reiterate our request that you exclude for-profit colleges from any additional emergency funding intended for institutions of higher education,” wrote the senators. “Further, in the event that students who attend for-profit colleges are eligible for higher education emergency student aid in the next package, we urge you to include strong accountability policies to support students and protect taxpayers, including policies to prohibit for-profit colleges from using funding for any purposes beyond emergency financial support to their students.”

The senators’ letter comes as for-profit colleges have seen an uptick in enrollment due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We remain concerned that for-profit colleges received over $1.1 billion under the CARES Act because according to recent reports, many for-profit colleges have used the pandemic and the resulting historic levels of unemployment as an opportunity to make money, using marketing and recruitment to boost online enrollment,” wrote the senators.

The senators continued, “For-profit colleges have a demonstrated record of capitalizing on economic anxieties to turn a profit…We urge you to protect students and not provide additional taxpayer money, especially without accountability to for-profit colleges —especially when the needs among public and non-profit institutions of higher education are so great.”

In addition to Senators Warren, Hassan, Durbin, and Brown, the letter was also signed by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Senator Warren has been a leader on student debt issues throughout her time in the Senate, taking on for-profit colleges and pushing the Obama administration to grant student debt forgiveness for defrauded students. Recently, Senator Warren called for a cancellation of student debt in the next COVID-19 relief package. In April 2020, Senator Warren joined her colleagues in pushing the Education Department to use its authority to target funding to public and nonprofit colleges, and issue strong accountability policies to support students and protect taxpayers, including policies to prohibit for-profit colleges from using funding for any purposes that boost their profits or do not directly aid students. Senator Warren also joined her colleagues in calling on student loan companies to allow private borrowers to suspend payments without penalty and discharge loans for those in financial distress.