Monday, July 25, 2016

Bill (and Hillary) Clinton's For-Profit College Problem

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 3:00 PM

I'm against for-profit schooling. It's possible for a school designed to make a profit to offer its students a quality education, but the lure of the almighty dollar makes the urge to recruit students who don't have the qualifications to benefit from the school and to scrimp on staff and supplies, because every dollar you don't spend is another dollar in your pocket, is nearly irresistible. I don't like it when charter schools are run as for-profit enterprises, and for-profit colleges are notorious for getting most of their money from government-based student financial aid and supplementing that with student loans, then giving their students a substandard education and leaving them in debt.

That means I don't think much of Laureate Education, a for-profit higher-education company that runs schools around the world, or the fact that Bill Clinton was paid a total of $16.5 million to serve as honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities from 2010 to 2014.

Laureate Education has 85 campuses around the world. The greatest number are in Latin America, 31, followed by Europe, 23. The U.S. has 8. Some are brick-and-mortar institutions, others are online schools. Laureate spends more than $200 million a year on advertising, uses aggressive student recruiting techniques and sometimes increases enrollment without expanding its faculty or facilities to properly serve the larger student body.

If you want to know more details about Laureate Education, the best article I found is in a Bloomberg publication from 2014. Here's the key sentence in a very long story.
Laureate has thrived by exporting many of the practices that for-profit colleges adopted in the U.S., such as offering career-oriented courses and spending heavily on marketing. Such strategies helped build what was a booming industry until 2010, when recruiting abuses and mounting student debt spurred a regulatory crackdown by President Barack Obama’s administration.
That pretty much sums it up. The owner saw a flawed, roundly criticized, very profitable U.S. education model and decided to take it worldwide.

What did Bill Clinton do to earn his money?
In this paid position, Clinton has trekked to Laureate’s campuses in countries such as Malaysia, Peru and Spain, making more than a dozen appearances on [Laureate Education's] behalf.

He probably did a bit more than that, but it's clear the company hired him to dress up its brand, not because of any expertise he offered the company. He wasn't alone in selling his political celebrity to the company.
Laureate has bolstered its image with the help of former political leaders such as Condoleezza Rice, Al Gore and Tony Blair, who have made appearances at Laureate schools.


Laureate has installed several people from Clinton’s administration in key executive and board positions, including Richard Riley, the former secretary of education; Joseph Duffey, the former head of the U.S. Information Agency; and Henry Cisneros, who served as Clinton’s secretary of housing and urban development.
Laureate has a few things in its favor, but a list of its positives amounts to damning the for-profit education system with faint praise. It brought greater access to higher education in places like Latin America where the countries' public universities couldn't meet the demand. It purchased some schools that were failing financially and made them economically viable. Some of its schools are reasonably highly rated (though some others have lost their accreditation). And its schools aren't a complete scam like Trump University, a pure money making scheme which was neither a university nor run by Trump. That's about it.

Judging from the ways Bill Clinton made money after his presidency, I'd say his position as honorary chancellor at Laureate had less to do with his commitment to the company and more to do with making up for lost time—or, to be more accurate, making up for lost earning potential, from 1978 when he was first elected governor of Arkansas until he left the White House in 2001. That being said, his very profitable flirtation with the for-profit education sector, especially at a time when its questionable practices were being exposed in the U.S., doesn't speak well for his character.

Hillary's main connection to Laureate is that Bill is her husband. (If you want to find all kinds of loose linkages between her and the company which can be used to damn her by possible association, there are plenty of right wing websites to give you what you want—or most likely you can go through the comments below and find all the links you need.) Bill severed ties with the company in 2014, probably because of Hillary's upcoming presidential bid, meaning there's no current conflict of interest if she becomes president.

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform says it "oppose[s] for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources." It also has a section about cracking down on "predatory for-profit schools" at the post-high school level. There's no telling how a Hillary Clinton presidency will deal with the for-profit higher-education sector, but the Laureate connection doesn't do anything to bolster my confidence.

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