For the past week, Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination have slammed the GOP front-runner for his association with Trump University, a now-defunct series of hotel-ballroom seminars that promised to teach students how to get rich off real estate but instead allegedly swindled them out of millions of dollars.
But Rubio’s attacks on Trump University are at odds with his past support for other alleged fraud factories: Troubled for-profit colleges, many of which also have been accused of duping prospective students into enrolling with false claims, preying on the poor and vulnerable, graduating few and causing financial ruin for many.
Unlike dodgy for-profit colleges, at least Trump University didn’t stick taxpayers with the bill.
For-profit schools such as Corinthian Colleges Inc., ITT Educational Services, and DeVry Education Group have collectively reaped about $100 billion over the last five academic years from taxpayers in the form of federal student loans and grants, Education Department data show.
While government authorities have accused Corinthian, ITT, DeVry and Trump of similar misdeeds — namely, misleading prospective students — only Trump’s for-profit venture provoked criticism from Rubio.
The for-profit college industry has funnelled at least $59,000 to Rubio and associated political committees for his federal campaigns, according to the Miami Herald. Alex Conant, a Rubio spokesman, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Rubio’s relationship with Corinthian was particularly cozy.
The since-shuttered for-profit college chain once had more than 110,000 students spread across more than 120 campuses in North America under the Everest, WyoTech and Heald brands. Various state and federal authorities have sued the company alleging it cheated its former students.
In June 2014 — some eight months after California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued the company, alleging mass fraud — Rubio asked the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate “leniency” toward Corinthian after the department delayed the company’s previously quick access to cash from the federal student aid program. The department was probing allegations that Corinthian falsified records about its former students’ success getting jobs in their fields.
Three months later, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Corinthian for allegedly misleading prospective students with bogus claims about former students’ success in the workforce. The career-focused school, the consumer bureau alleged, inflated the percentage of former students who got jobs in their fields.
At one of Corinthian’s Georgia campuses, according to the consumer bureau’s lawsuit, employees at Everest College concocted fake employers that the school claimed had hired its students. Everest employees then had their friends falsely verify the employment.
A representative for Rubio later said that the lawmaker was simply trying to protect Corinthian students from “having their educations disrupted.” Corinthian filed for bankruptcy last year. Thousands of its former students have since petitioned the Education Department to cancel their loans on account of Corinthian’s alleged frauds.
Rubio similarly went to bat for for-profit colleges last year. The senator reportedly was among a group of federal lawmakers urging Education Secretary Arne Duncan to abandon proposed rules that would deny federal student aid to career schools that graduated students with too much debt relative to their eventual earnings.
A study last year of federal data by a Treasury Department economist and a former Treasury intern found that 1 in 5 students who left a for-profit college in 2011 — after having borrowed from the federal government to pay for classes — were unemployed in 2013.
The typical for-profit college student borrower who left school in 2011 and found a job earned less than $21,000 in 2013, according to the study. The typical recent high school graduate makes about $25,000 annually, Education Department data show.
For-profit college defenders argue that their schools serve students shunned by traditional public and nonprofit colleges. Their students are typically poorer, they argue, and often the first in their families to attend college. For-profits, the industry’s boosters say, provide opportunity.
But offering that opportunity comes at a tremendous cost. For-profit colleges are responsible for an outsized share of defaults in the federal student loan program. Though its student borrowers made up 29 percent of all students who recently entered repayment, they were responsible for 39 percent of all defaults that occurred within the first three years payments were due, Education Department data show.
Rubio has largely been silent on those for-profit college issues, despite what many decry as a waste of limited taxpayer resources.
He also hasn’t said much about victims in his home state of Florida who attended a for-profit school that used provocatively dressed former strippers to recruit students.
Last November, a federal jury convicted Alejandro Amor, the owner of now-defunct FastTrain College, of stealing from the government. The Justice Department alleged that FastTrain enrolled students who couldn’t read, coached some to lie on their applications for federal student aid and routinely falsified records.
A federal prosecutor said that FastTrain sold prospective students a “phony dream,” the Miami Herald reported.
A search of the Nexis news database reveals no records of Rubio even once discussing FastTrain, which took tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers while leaving its former students on the hook for loans that paid for credentials of questionable value.
It’s unclear how much of that money former FastTrain students will be able to repay.
But that may not matter to Rubio. If elected president, he wants to “modernize” the college sector by allowing “low-cost, innovative higher education providers” to tap taxpayer cash in the form of federal student loans and grants.
If Rubio has his way, it could even allow Trump to resurrect his “university.”