By Glen Ford
Originally published by Black Agenda Report.
“HBCU’s and community colleges attempt to serve much the same demographic that is so grievously exploited and damaged by for-profit vultures.”
The dominos are falling in the for-profit college racket, a cauldron of corruption that has crushed the dreams of millions of African Americans in desperate search for tools to navigate their way through a racist, cut-throat capitalist society. Corinthian College’s stock fell from a peak of $33 a share, ten years ago, to 33 cents last month, when it became clear that the federal government intended to pull the plug on the $1.6 billion a year rip-off. Corinthian – known to victims by the brand names Heald College, Everest, and WyoTech – will soon file for bankruptcy protection, shielding its bankster and hedge fund profiteers from liability for wanton theft and massive life-wrecking. More than 70,000 students at 107 campuses, half of whom were statistically certain to drop out before completely their courses, will struggle to find another route to mobility and dignity.
Corinthian is only the third or fourth-worst offender in the pantheon of for-profit colleges created for the sole purpose of diverting public money to the coffers of hedge funds and mega-banks. Although the titans of this fraudulent industry have committed crimes far larger than Bernard Madoff, none of them will join him in prison, since their victims are largely Black people whose usefulness to Wall Street is limited to availability for super-exploitation, demonization and incarceration.
Corinthian’s collapse – and the panic that reigns in the rest of the for-profit education pack – was triggered by the Obama administration’s decision to shut off the criminal enterprise’s federal funding faucet, which accounted for at least 83 percent of the company’s revenue stream. Since Corinthian, like its sister shysters, was created as a pass-through of federal dollars, it could not withstand the slightest pause in payments from various federal agencies. So, it folded. Other corporate educational fraudsters will soon follow Corinthian into bankruptcy, causing a shakeup in the industry that will probably result in a leaner and more vertically integrated structure of dream-sploitation. Billions of educational dollars will continue flowing straight from federal programs to Wall Street, but with little improvement to the life-chances of the supposed beneficiaries: the educationally deprived.
“Other corporate educational fraudsters will soon follow Corinthian into bankruptcy.”
The Obama administration may abhor the chaos in which players like the University of Phoenix and Ashford University have become the top producers of baccalaureate degrees among Blacks. But the administration – and the Democratic Party, as an institution – also worships at the alter of privatization. Rather than eliminate the felonious educational enterprises root and branch – and spend the money on a nationalized system of free education – Obama will continue to provide tens of billions to nourish the poisoned tree.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who was slightly to the left of Obama when they briefly served together, blasted the for-profit education racket a year and a half ago. Durbin laid it out in a letter:
“For-profit colleges educate only 12 percent of all college students in America. Yet, a disproportionate 25 percent of all federal aid to education goes to for-profit colleges. And a staggering 47 percent of all student loan defaults are among for-profit school students.
Every year we send $32 billion to for-profit colleges, making that ‘private sector’ industry the most highly taxpayer-subsidized business in America.”
Durbin concluded, “We should be spending that money on schools with proven track records of educating rather than exploiting students, and making productive investments in infrastructure, medical research and effective worker training.”
But, of course, Sen. Durbin would transfer these monies to existing institutions (or new ones sponsored by billionaires more to his liking, such as Bill Gates), rather than spend $32 billion a year to establish a free or nominal-cost public educational agency dedicated to serving the needs of the same, disproportionately Black students that are now fodder for corporate hucksters and thieves. The very existence of Corinthian, Phoenix, Ashford and the other gangster institutions proves beyond doubt that the vast bulk of the existing U.S. educational establishment is not serving these populations. Shifting federal funds to schools that are incapable or unwilling to accommodate the millions of Black, brown and poor people who are so demonstrably hungry for learning and skills does not solve the original problem.
Sen. Durbin points out that $32 billion dollars a year is the spending equivalent of “the ninth-largest agency in our government.” If that is the case, then why not create such an agency? With Wall Street no longer skimming profits, $32 billion would go a lot farther in providing free public education and training to the huge population that has already been defined and reached by the predatory for-profit outfits.
“Shifting federal funds to schools that are incapable or unwilling to accommodate the millions of Black, brown and poor people who are so demonstrably hungry for learning and skills does not solve the original problem.”
In previous decades, African American political leaders would have been out front in demanding a public agency to respond to the phenomenal Black craving for educational services. However, much of the Congressional Black Caucus has succumbed to the bribery of for-profit sugar daddies who, according to Sen. Durbin, “own every lobbyist in town.” Among the legions of for-profit lobbyists is Black former Maryland Rep. Al Wynn (who, while in office, acted as the Black Caucus bag-man for the corporate Democratic Leadership Council). Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings collected at least $54,500 from the education rip-off industry, according to David Halperin’s April 3 article in The Nation, “The Perfect Lobby: How One Industry Captured Washington, DC.”
Hastings featured prominently in the groundbreaking May 27 Huffington Post piece “How the Congressional Black Caucus Went to War with Itself Over Wall Street,” which described his “epic argument” with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in 2011. Waters blasted Hastings
“for sponsoring a measure that was seen as a gift to shady for-profit colleges. What was more embarrassing than selling out, Waters told her assembled colleagues, was selling out cheap to nickel-and-dime scammers like the for-profit college industry. If you’re going to sell your soul, she admonished, have some self-respect and sell high. (Hastings didn’t dispute the conflict, but he did dispute Waters’ point. ‘It would be a mistaken premise,’ he says, smiling. ‘There are a hell of a lot of for-profit schools.’)”
Key members of the unelected Black Misleadership Class are also beholden to Wall Street’s for-profit federal educational money conduits. The National Urban League got a $1 million check from now-doomed Corinthian Colleges after president Marc Morial wrote a favorable op-ed in the Washington Post. Morial then joined Corinthian’s board of directors, a sinecure that is worth between $60,000 and $90,000 a year in cash and deferred stock.
Al Sharpton, the MSNBC host and presidential pit bull, reciprocated the University of Phoenix’s sponsorship of his TV special Advancing the Dream with a puff piece on the for-profit giant’s online offerings, featuring the NFL’s Larry Fitzgerald, a Phoenix student and booster. Phoenix University excels all others in funneling Black people’s educational dollars directly to Wall Street via the Apollo Group, a $5.36 billion corporation with ties to the super-predatory Carlyle Group.
For-profit education has diverted many billions of dollars that Black students never actually possessed for even one moment– but will owe for much of the rest of their lives – into the accounts of the fabulously wealthy.
“The National Urban League got a $1 million check from now-doomed Corinthian Colleges after president Marc Morial wrote a favorable op-ed in the Washington Post.”
Kai Wright, a brilliant young Black journalist, reported that Black enrollment in for-profit bachelor programs grew 264 percent between 2004 and 2010, compared to enrollment growth of only 24 percent at traditional four-year institutions. Blacks flocked to colleges of all kinds at 35 percent higher rates in the first decade of this century, with most of the increase at for-profits.
If Corinthian and its ilk are to be denounced and indicted – as they should be – then so should the vast bulk of the U.S. educational establishment, which through malignant neglect and outright hostility set Black people up for cruel exploitation by for-profit criminals.
One exception is historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), now reeling from a funding crisis set in motion by Obama administration “reforms” in student aid, which led to dramatic decreases in student enrollment. HBCU’s and community colleges attempt to serve much the same demographic that is so grievously exploited and damaged by for-profit vultures. Therefore, these two step-children of American education are the logical starting points for building a publicly funded, virtually free higher educational system, sustained by a lion’s share of the $32 billion in federal moneys that annually pass through for-profits on the way to Wall Street. (Total federal spending on HBCUs is currently less than $1.5 billion a year, and California’s community college system, the nation’s largest, is in constant crisis.)
Nobody can claim that the feds don’t have the money; Washington spends it lavishly on edu-criminal enterprises. Most importantly, history shows conclusively that most of established U.S. public and private higher education is institutionally incapable of serving anything approaching sufficient numbers of darker and poorer Americans – who are then corralled by scurrilous aid-snatchers and dream-breakers.
The for-profits should be put out of business with all deliberate speed, but it would be a further crime to shift that portion of federal aid to schools that have never demonstrated a willingness or competence to serve the demographic so cruelly exploited by the likes of Corinthian. The federal dollars that made Phoenix and Ashford Universities the top sources of Black baccalaureate degrees (for whatever that’s worth) should not be diverted to institutions that are manifestly hostile to Black people, based on enrollment figures.
America needs more than just a free education; its excluded classes need a new system, free of the class and race bias that pervades the current higher educational order.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.