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Congresswoman Waters Supports Gainful Employment Rules to Protect Students, Save Taxpayer Dollars

February 18, 2011
Press Release

Below are remarks as prepared for delivery by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), which were supposed to have been delivered at a press conference organized on Capitol Hill today by Campus Progress in support of the Department of Education's gainful employment rules. House votes precluded the Congresswoman from attending:

"I would like to thank Campus Progress for organizing this press conference today, and to thank our guests for being here and telling us their stories and for telling us why this gainful employment rule is so necessary. And I'd like to acknowledge and thank my colleague Congresswoman Moore for being here and for her work on this issue.

Since my time as an Assemblywoman in California – over twenty years ago – I have found myself going toe-to-toe with these for-profit schools. I could go on and on about the people I've met who were just looking for an education and a good-paying job, but who found themselves undereducated, unemployed, and in debt once they left school. And the vast majority of them were women, African American or Hispanic, and from a low-income background.

We know the statistics about how these students have been preyed upon by school employees with intense recruitment goals. We know the students are enticed with promises of affordable lending, a decent education, and job placement in the field they are studying. And we know that when they leave school – if they finish – they are facing staggering debt and unemployment.

So instead of just focusing on how these schools often harm students more than they help them, I want to talk about the extremely important gainful employment rules currently being considered by the Department of Education. These rules have dual importance: they would protect students and they would save taxpayer money. They would do this by attacking bad programs that are not fulfilling the obligations of eligibility for Title IV funding.

It's important to reiterate that the gainful employment rules would attack bad programs – they would not attack students or their ability to attend school. And we're talking about the worst of the worst: in 2012 about 5 percent of the schools would be subject to tighter regulations under the rules.

This, of course, is not what opponents of the rules will tell you. They'll say the schools lend to underserved and low-income populations that can't secure traditional funding and therefore can't attend traditional non-profit public or private schools. Well, I'd like to quote the respected educational and civil rights leaders Marian Wright Edelman and Ben Jealous, who recently wrote in USAToday that that argument "misses the mark. It's like arguing that because mortgage lenders targeted minorities with their most exploitative products and practices, we should not have stopped them." As someone who was worked to stem the tide of foreclosures – brought on by subprime and predatory lending largely to communities of color and to those who could not afford these exotic products – and to hold the unscrupulous accountable, this is an argument that resonates with me and should resonate with all public policymakers who look out for the vulnerable and who want to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.

But I'll do my colleagues one better with an argument that may hit home even further. Right now in Washington, we're talking about budgets, deficits, job creation, and the economy. These schools derive between 85 and 90 percent of their funding from the Federal government. That's taxpayer dollars. And what's worse, the government is not getting its return on investment: the schools serve only 10 percent of U.S. students, but absorb about 25 percent of federal student aid. And what's worse, almost half of student borrowers – upwards of 45 percent – who have begun repaying their loans since 2008 have defaulted.

Many of these schools aggressively recruit students, give them a shoddy education, and leave them jobless and penniless upon graduation. Let's reform that by making sure that these programs are meaningfully and affordably preparing students for work and life. If they aren't, they do not deserve federal funding, period.

There are many reasons why I want to tighten up regulations on these schools, which in my view are really more like for-profit corporations. But today, I urge my colleagues to vote against the Kline-Foxx-McCarthy-Hastings amendment and to allow the Department of Education's gainful employment rules to move forward.

It's the right thing to do for students, and it's the right thing to do for taxpayers. In fact, this is a surefire way to both help people and save the government money.

Thank you."