Transcript: Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s Opening Statement on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski for profit college hearing 6.7.11

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

Hearing on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges” (June 7, 2011)

Transcript of Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s Opening Statement

“I believe that higher education is a very important right in our country. If you want to work hard, you should be able to learn so you can earn either a degree or certificate that no one can ever take away from you. In our country, I believe in opportunity and choice.

“But I also believe that we have to be stewards. We understand that federal grants and student loans have made educational opportunity a reality for generations. The financial risk is taken over by the student and by the taxpayer. So we need to make sure that we have a working set of rules in who we help that doesn’t add to student debt that is then crushing and that doesn’t add to the federal government debt where what we think is creating opportunity is a hollow opportunity.

“I do believe in choice, and I believe because I’m a product of Catholic liberal arts school, I got my Master’s degree from a great public land grant university, the University of Maryland, I taught at a Jesuit college, I taught at a community college, I taught day school, I taught night school, and my students taught me a lot. Therefore when you look at just the array of where I had an opportunity to teach, and where I had an opportunity to learn, shows quite a cornucopia of choice in our country which we would want to preserve.

“But I also don’t believe in gouging and profiteering, and this is what I’m concerned about. That while we’re looking for choice in opportunity that there is profiteering.

“I’m deeply troubled by what I see on these charts, particularly in the way it could affect poor and minority students, the way it could affect our returning veterans, who think that they have a GI bill and I don’t want that to turn into a hollow opportunity. So I look forward to working with you because we do need clear rules in the game.

“We do need reform, but I also think we need to look at why do these students turn to these profit-making colleges? They obviously fill a niche, they obviously recruit students in a unique way, and I think we need to look at why do they go there with such an enormous amount of debt, what niche do they fill, and where are we in the community college?

“Mr. Chairman, when I go around to talk to my Maryland constituents, I meet a lot of young people who took one course or one semester at a college. They drop out to make money or any number of reasons. By the time they march around from what they think is one opportunity to another, they do not have an academic home, the only consistent thing is their student debt. The only consistent thing is their student debt. So why aren’t the community colleges filling in? Is it the capacity? Is how community colleges are organized? I’m a big fan. I think we need to look at the niche that they fill and examine what other institutions could fill that niche.”

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