The Miami Herald began its investigation in early 2014 by requesting 18 months worth of South Florida-based complaints about for-profit colleges. The state’s Commission for Independent Education (CIE), which investigates those complaints, provided 157 files, encompassing 4,670 pages.
None of the complaints resulted in sanctions against a school. The Herald asked to see any complaints at any time in the history of the CIE that led to punishment of a school. The state said there were no such records.
Although the state redacted the names and other contact information from all of the complaints, journalists were able to track some of the students through clues left in the documents.
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In June, when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced that her office had reached a legal settlement with Kaplan University, the Herald requested all investigative documents related to that case. The attorney general released sworn statements by ex-students and ex-employees at Kaplan. The Herald then asked for documents relating to Bondi's other for-profit investigations, which yielded a trove of thousands of pages of complaints.
The Herald also examined thousands of pages of state inspection reports of for-profit schools.
To measure the industry’s political influence in Tallahassee and Washington, the Herald reviewed campaign contributions for more than 75 politicians — including checks written by executives, their spouses and other companies operated by the owners of for-profit schools.
The list of the 15 new state laws benefiting for-profits was assembled through interviews with political insiders, and also by reviewing the industry’s own lobbying updates to its schools, which sometimes identified the bills that were being pushed that year in the state capital.