An investigation we co-published last month with National Public Radio's Marketplace about the University of Phoenix's questionable recruiting tactics has prompted a Maryland lawmaker to call for congressional hearings on the conduct of for-profit schools.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., has written to the chairmen of two House committees, calling the pattern of behavior we detailed "disheartening at best and infuriating at worst."
Proprietary schools provide valuable opportunities for students unable to attend traditional colleges, Cummings' Dec. 14 letter (PDF) acknowledges. But "to find that for-profit institutions allegedly drew students in with disingenuous claims and sometimes outright fabrication, subjected them to onerous loans, and left them with often unusable 'credits,' is inexcusable," he said.
Cummings' letter was addressed to Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Neither committee has moved to act upon Cummings' request yet.
"We share Rep. Cummings' commitment to ensuring that all institutions of higher education act in the best interests of their students," Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for the Education and Labor Committee, told us in an e-mail.
A spokeswoman for the University of Phoenix's parent company, the Apollo Group Inc., did not respond to phone calls or an e-mail about the letter.
There have been ongoing issues with enrollment practices at the University of Phoenix, the nation's largest for-profit school and single biggest recipient of federal student aid.
Students told us that Phoenix counselors misled them about the availability of courses and the transferability of credits. Former recruiters also said they were instructed to assure prospective students that federal grants would cover class costs when that was not certain. Phoenix's president, Bill Pepicello, said the school didn't condone such tactics and did not train recruiters to use them.
Earlier this week, the school agreed to pay $78.5 million to settle a 2003 whistleblower lawsuit concerning the way it compensated recruiters. The company previously paid $10 million to settle allegations of enrollment abuses made by the U.S. Department of Education.