Today, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for a crackdown on the use of deceptive and misleading pitches in higher education that lure college students into taking on thousands of dollars in student loan debt for little academic and professional advancement in return. After receiving complaints from college students, Blumenthal introduced a bill that would prevent these abuses by requiring colleges to disclose information such as cost of attendance, student outcomes, academic offerings, and procedures for withdrawing and filing complaints. The bill is called the ACCEPT Act -- the Advancing College Choice and Ethics to Protect Taxpayers Act (S.3550).
Blumenthal said, "Deceptive and dishonest practices by colleges must be stopped. And this bill sends a strong message that colleges cannot continue to conceal poor graduation rates, true tuition and other costs, and deficient academic offerings -- putting enrollment and profit over education. While bad actors have made progress, many continue misleading pitches that lure and trap students in crippling debt, often without degrees. This bill aims to give taxpayers and students their money's worth. It forces colleges to put students first by requiring more transparency, strengthening penalties for misrepresentation, and providing students with more time to make informed decisions."
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, and Pensions, joined Blumenthal in introducing the bill as an original co-sponsor. In July, Harkin released a searing report on the for-profit college industry -- the result of a two-year long investigation of 30 for-profit colleges and corporations. Although none of the for-profit colleges and corporations investigated by Harkin are headquartered in Connecticut, three of corporations operate colleges in Connecticut: Apollo Group, which operates University of Phoenix in Norwalk, Career Education Corporation, which operates Sanford-Brown College, and Lincoln Educational Services Company, which operates Lincoln Tech.
Harkin said, "This bill sends a clear message to schools that either deliberately mislead or fail to properly inform prospective students about the education they are seeking. Our Committee report uncovered widespread deceptive and misleading recruiting tactics in the for-profit education industry, which contribute to high dropout rates, squandered taxpayer dollars, and burdensome student debt. The ACCEPT Act forces all colleges to be honest and transparent about their quality and cost, and strengthens key consumer protections to ensure that students and taxpayers get a fair deal. With college debt at an all-time high, the bill will empower students and their families to make a decision that is right for them and lead to the educational and economic advancement they deserve."
The ACCEPT Act would:
*Ban deceptive practices, and strengthen the federal ban on misrepresentation by colleges by expanding the ban's reach, increasing the penalty for violations, and targeting high-risk institutions and repeat offenders.
*Require colleges with a high percentage of student borrowers and a high student default rate to provide students with a waiting period between acceptance and enrollment. The bill would also prohibit these colleges from using financial aid to coerce students to enroll during this period, and ensure that prospective students at these colleges have the time to become fully informed of their financial aid eligibility at least one week prior to enrollment.
*Require colleges to make front-end disclosures to all prospective students regarding cost of attendance, student outcomes, academic offerings, and procedures for withdrawing and filing complaints.
*Provide all students with disclosure sheets on the colleges they are considering. These disclosure sheets would include key data on costs and outcomes with comparative context from states and the nation.
In January, Blumenthal received a letter from Madison, Conn. resident Seth Grenier. In 2008, Grenier enrolled in a software game development program at Westwood College, a for-profit college based in Denver, Colo. According to Seth, his online courses involved outdated technology that was not fit for the needs of employers in the field. He also felt his courses were rushed and his instructors were not helpful. Eventually, he became frustrated with the program and -- after looking into Westwood College's reputation and finding similar complaints from other students -- withdrew in 2010. Although Seth withdrew from the program before the upcoming semester, he was still charged fees for it. Now, he and his parents are saddled with $30,000 in student loan debt.