Commentary

Dems Pressure VA in War Against Veteran College Students, Private Colleges

Gerard Scimeca
By Gerard Scimeca | February 1, 2019 | 10:50 AM EST

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 6: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks with reporters following the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol September 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

It’s no secret how many Democrats in Washington openly condemn private, for-profit and non-profit colleges and universities that offer students specific, career-focused degrees. Many Democrats in Congress work feverishly to shut these schools down, and they will only be happy with the education version of Obamacare, where they sit as gatekeepers of higher education. In their perfect world, all students would learn and study under the thumb of liberal education activists and their far-left policies. When Hillary Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump, cries of anguish were loudest from the liberal education sector and activists who hoped to wage another eight-year campaign against private colleges with the goal of running these schools out of business.

Democrat Sens. Richard Durbin, Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, Sherrod Brown, along with House members Mark Takano, Bobby Scott and others, are the most prominent field generals in the battle against for-profit and non-profit colleges and universities. But without having control over the Dept. of Education to undermine private college education, they deploy more clandestine tactics.

We remember how President Obama pressured the IRS to punish conservative groups – denying many right of center organizations their rightful tax-exempt status. Sen. Durbin is the new standard-bearer in replicating this strategy. With increasing regularity, Durbin rounds up his Senate colleagues to pressure government agencies into taking partisan political action. He has pressured IRS officials into thwarting efforts by some private colleges to move from for-profit to non-profit status, now he’s pressuring the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to cut off GI Bill funding to some private schools. If you can’t control the White House, the Dept. of Education or the U.S. Senate, your best move is to use your political clout as a senior Senator to pressure government workers to do your bidding.

Sen. Durbin’s strategy is shameful and must be condemned. Using the VA for partisan political action cracks the integrity of the Veterans Administration. Partisan political activity has its proper place in Congress, not within government agencies that are supposed to serve Americans equally. We would hope Veterans Affairs Sec. Robert Wilkie is aware of this back-room effort to manipulate his Department and will stop these reprehensible political maneuvers.   

In addition to liberal Senators pressuring the VA, other Democrats have formed partisan political organizations – described as non-partisan veteran service organizations - to amplify Democrat talking points and further their attacks against private colleges. Veterans Education Success (VES) for example, pushes a message that condemns virtually all private, for-profit colleges as scams. The group receives funding from liberal foundations and is clearly a Democrat political operation with nearly all its staff coming from Democrat political ranks. A review of the VES website reveals an obvious bias favoring state colleges and public schools with no acknowledgment of the value provided by private colleges or the decades of service many private schools have offered veterans and their families.   

If these underhanded tactics succeed, it will be real students seeking better opportunities who will be hurt most. Recent Gallup research of students attending private colleges offering career-oriented degrees revealed a 62 percent increase in median personal earnings for graduates. The research, commissioned by Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), included responses from more than 3,000 CECU member alumni. “The Gallup findings that most CECU career colleges and universities provide programs that prepare graduates to enter the workforce quickly, and in jobs that deeply interest them, confirms what was known by our alumni and schools, but little known outside our sector,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of CECU. “This research by Gallup ends the debate regarding outcomes for our schools, Gunderson added.”

Manhattan Institute adjunct fellow Judah Bellin has commented on the success of private education in New York State, “In New York State, where for-profit enrollment has doubled over the last 30 years, a sensible regulatory regime has helped foster a number of successful schools. A solid percentage of them boast above-average student outcomes, with graduation rates outpacing any other higher-education sector.”

Learn.org says students at private colleges often experience shorter completion times. “On average, undergraduate students at a private college take four and a half years to graduate, while the average undergraduate student at a public college needs over six years to earn a degree. The Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reports that students who attend private colleges enjoy other advantages, such as smaller class sizes and higher graduation rates.”

Waging an unfounded war against the private college sector to create an Obamacare college network is wrong. Free markets and consumer choice should determine who wins and flourishes in the education industry – not politicians or political operatives who have longstanding prejudices against private schools. America faces a national shortage of skilled workers numbering in the millions. Now is not the time to attack schools that offer veterans, women and minority students career-specific degrees that can lead to good paying jobs.

Gerard Scimeca is an attorney and vice president of CASE, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market oriented consumer advocacy organization.

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