Community Colleges, Corporate, Cost of Education, Domestic, Ethics, For-Profit, Friend, Fraud, or Fishy, Investors, Regulatory, Required, University & College - Written by on Friday, January 20, 2012 6:00 - 0 Comments

Heard: Mitt Romney Takes Money From, Offers Praise To Full Sail University Leaders

by Gage Skidmore via Flickr under Creative Commons

Mitt Romney has some financial backing as well as praise for the for-profit college industry according to a report ins The New York Times by Eric Lichtblau. When pressed about rising tuition costs at a town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire, Romney suggested students should consider for-profit colleges such as Florida’s Full Sail University. This sounds like the typical thinking of a former private equity firm owner. His view of America and experience buying and selling companies for a profit – often by cutting labor costs – seems to give him an inability to understand the lower, poorer classes in America. Under a Romney administration, we wonder if the Department of Education would again loosen rules on the For-Profit colleges? If that is the case, we will editorialize against him in weeks and months going forward. This is an area where we believe President Obama has the interest of the country in mind by imposing regulations that require better policy and performance by these schools. Romney’s actions so far indicate a naiveté of this industry, its impact on students and America…. and a primary focus on increasing profits for his private equity buddies. Lichtblau writes:

A week later in Iowa, Mr. Romney offered another unsolicited endorsement for “a place in Florida called Full Sail University.” By increasing competition, for-profit institutions like Full Sail, which focuses on the entertainment field, “hold down the cost of education” and help students get jobs without saddling them with excessive debt, he said.

Mr. Romney did not mention the cost of tuition at Full Sail, which runs more than $80,000, for example, for a 21-month program in “video game art.” Nor did he mention its spotty graduation rate. Or, for that matter, that its chief executive, Bill Heavener, is a major campaign donor and a co-chairman of his state fund-raising team in Florida. That team, Mr. Romney said last fall when he appointed Mr. Heavener, “will be crucial to my efforts in Florida and across the country.”

Beyond his fund-raising role, Mr. Heavener has committed his own resources to the cause. He and his wife have each given the maximum $2,500 to the campaign, and he gave $45,000 to Restore Our Future, a “super PAC” run by former Romney aides to bolster his campaign. The chairman of the private equity fund that owns Full Sail University — C. Kevin Landry of TA Associates — gave $40,000 to Restore Our Future, records show.

The Times reports Romney has received financial support from other related for-profit college groups as well. He argues that these institutions illustrate a free-market approach to education. But he may not be very well-versed in all the issues related to the for-profit college debate. The Times points out that for-profit colleges are generally more expensive than community colleges and four-year colleges according to experts. The Times writes of Full Sail:

Situated on a 191-acre campus outside Orlando, with 110 studios and production facilities, Full Sail was founded 30 years ago to train students for careers in film, music, entertainment and sports marketing and related fields, often on the production side of the business. With about 15,000 students, it boasts of a number of alumni who have gone on to win Grammys and other prestigious awards or worked with big-name performers like Madonna and Jay-Z.

One focus has been recruiting both active and former military personnel, who are eligible for special federal financing for educational programs. Full Sail has generally been regarded more highly than many other institutions in the for-profit college industry as a whole, which has been the target of withering criticism in the last few years in the wake of federal investigations into fraudulent marketing practices, poor academic records and huge loans assumed by students ill-prepared for the expensive programs.

Still, the school has attracted its share of criticism on Internet discussion boards and YouTube postings from its own students and alumni, with some alumni even deriding it as a “scam” because of what they described as high tuition, inadequate career training and difficulties in transferring credits to other schools. Some of Full Sail’s 37 degree programs have suffered from high loan burdens and low graduation rates, data show. The $81,000 video game art program, for instance, graduated just 14 percent of its 272 students on time and only 38 percent at all, while the students carried a median debt load of nearly $59,000 in federal and private loans in 2008, according to data that the federal Education Department now requires for-profit colleges to disclose in response to criticism of their academic records.

To be fair, the story noted that other programs at Full Sail had better graduation rates, such as the masters in entertainment business, which costs $36,245 in tuition for a year and graduated 80% of its students.

By the way, Full Sail is owned by Boston-based private equity firm TA Associates. That firm had at least one deal with the firm Romney spear-headed, Bain Capital. Such firms receive huge perks from the federal government such as tax breaks on Carried Interest. The powerful private equity club and private equity lobby argues against any changes to the status quo of these buyout firms. 

Among other for-profit college executives who are supporting Mr. Romney, Todd S. Nelson, chief executive at the Education Management Corporation, also gave the campaign $2,500. His company is the target of an $11 billion Justice Department lawsuit over accusations of fraudulent marketing and recruiting practices. Education Management is partly owned by Goldman Sachs, whose individual employees represent a bigger source of campaign revenue for Mr. Romney than any other single company.

Mr. Romney also just brought on Charlie Black, a prominent Washington lobbyist who has worked for for-profit colleges, as an informal campaign adviser. But the candidate’s closest industry links are clearly with Full Sail University.

At an interview last month in Iowa with editors and reporters at The Ames Tribune, Mr. Romney turned the conversation to Full Sail when he was asked about the costs of higher education, and he volunteered that he had visited the school in Florida. He said he came away impressed by the school’s year-round schedule and its numerous campus production studios for training students in film, music, editing, video games and other fields.

“They bring a new class in every month, so there’s a graduating class every month and they can place people” in the job market, Mr. Romney said, adding that “they hold down the cost of their education” by recognizing that they are in competition with other for-profit and traditional colleges. He said schools like Full Sail and the University of Phoenix, a much larger and better-known nationwide system, offer students an alternative.

Via The New York Times  ”Romney offers praise for a donor’s business.”



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