Transcript: Wade Henderson’s Testimony on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”
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 Testimony by Wade Henderson, President and CEO The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“Thank you, Chairman Harkin, and good morning both to you and members of the committee. As you’ve already noted, I’m Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a national coalition of over 200 organizations working to build an America that’s as good as its ideals. I’m also proud to appear before you today as the Joseph L. Raul, Jr. Professor of Public Interest Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia.
“I want to thank you again for inviting me here today to testify on why the civil rights communities strongly support the efforts of this committee and those of the Obama administration to expand access to post-secondary education.
“Now before I address the substance of today’s hearing Mr. Chairman, I do want to thank you personally for your efforts in the current appropriations process to protect education funding, especially funding for Pell grants which are a vital lifeline for low-income and working families seeking to send their children to college.
“The Leadership Conference believes that access to education is a fundamental civil and human right. In fact, access to high quality education is among the most pressing civil and human right issues of this century. This principle is especially important at a time when educational attainment and access to employment are more closely intertwined than ever. A greater investment in the lives and hopes of our nation’s young people is of paramount importance. To be perfectly blunt, if we don’t educate every child, every young adult, every working American who seeks to change careers and to educate them well, our future as a nation is in serious jeopardy.
“The Leadership Conference recognizes the vital role that post-secondary education of all types, including for-profit settings, can play in educating and preparing young people for the jobs and careers of today and tomorrow.
“The for-profit sector enrollment has more than tripled over the last decade and now comprises 11% of the nation’s full-time undergraduate enrollment. It enrolls disproportionate numbers of women, racial minorities, low-income students, veterans, and older Americans, including many working people seeking to further their careers through online coursework. However, we are alarmed by the mounting evidence that the for-profit sector is engaging in what I would call predatory lending practices: overcharging for their product, failing to deliver on programs leading to gainful employment, leaving large numbers of students saddled with enormous debt, and leaving taxpayers holding the bag. And I should note that this is debt that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. It will dog the future financial success of these individuals for much of their remaining lives.
“As civil rights advocates this is all too familiar. This is the very same thing that we saw with the rampant predatory lending that occurred during the housing boom, in which some actors in an industry that services low-income and minority people decided to take advantage of these individuals simply because they believe they could.
“Government cannot sit by as it did during the housing boom and allow the worst actors to exploit those they serve while claiming that because they provide a valuable service that these communities desperately need they should be exempt from scrutiny. Indeed, the reverse is true. It is imperative that we guard against powerful institutions taking advantage of and exploiting the least among us.
“That’s why the Leadership Conference believes that the Department of Education’s Gainful Employment rule is a long-overdue and important step in protecting students and taxpayers from unscrupulous career education programs. While the rule does not include many of the protections urged by civil rights, students, women, labor and consumers organizations, it does send a strong message to many for-profit programs to start putting students first.
“We recognize that they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to the national interest on which they rely in getting the funding that supports the institutions they serve.
“For-profit colleges can be viable option for many students who may not have many other options, but that doesn’t give these businesses the right to exploit those they serve. Access to college and career education isn’t just about enrollment, it isn’t just about being able to say that you are giving to minorities, women, and low-income people an opportunity to reach their dreams, you have to actually provide the necessary skills and training that you purport to deliver. The degrees and certifications that for-profit students obtain must be worth more than the paper that they’re printed on. Otherwise, what’s the point?
“Our nation’s future depends to a large degree on how well we educate the next generation. We will succeed only if we allow students a fair opportunity to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to fully participate in our economy and our society. The new Gainful Employment Rule, adequate funding for ESEA and student financial aid programs, and continued efforts by both the department of education and this committee will help ensure that they get the chance. Our investment in our children, our young people, older working adults must be as great as our dreams for our future. Nothing less will do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
- Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
- Transcript of Sen. Tom Harkin’s opening statement on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”
- Transcript: Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s Opening Statement on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”
- Wade Henderson’s written testimony submitted on June 7, 2011 (PDF)
- U.S. Department of Education: Obama administration announces new steps to protect students from ineffective career college programs
- U.S. Department of Education: Gainful Employment Rules draft released on June 3, 2011 (PDF)