Gov. Rick Scott has signed a law ending a legal loophole that benefited Dade Medical College. The now-shuttered for-profit college used the loophole to offer expensive degrees with few job prospects.
The degrees were in the field of physical therapy assistant, and Dade Medical’s $40,050 PTA associate’s degree program was unaccredited. That meant that graduates of the school, under federal regulations, couldn’t work with Medicare patients. Several large hospitals made it clear they would never hire these students.
Tad Fisher, CEO of the Florida Physical Therapy Association, said students were “taken advantage of” by the unaccredited PTA programs, and he credited the Miami Herald with exposing the damage caused by the loophole. Fisher’s association had repeatedly asked lawmakers to close the loophole, and this year the Legislature finally did so, adding the provision to a wide-ranging Department of Health bill that passed the House and Senate easily.
It was a lawmaker with close ties to Dade Medical — Miami state Rep. Carlos Trujillo — who engineered the loophole in 2013.
15The number of laws benefiting for-profit colleges that were passed by Florida legislators in recent years
Dade Medical then signed up hundreds of students for its unaccredited program — reaping millions in tuition payments. More than a dozen other for-profit colleges followed Dade Medical’s lead and started their own unaccredited PTA programs.
The Miami Herald later reported that Trujillo’s sister-in-law was receiving free tuition at Dade Medical College. Trujillo said it wasn’t a conflict of interest because he wasn’t aware of her financial aid status, and a sister-in-law isn’t an immediate family member.
A recent Miami Herald investigation, Higher-Ed Hustle, highlighted how for-profit colleges in Florida used their political influence to get 15 laws passed that benefited the industry — including Trujillo’s law. In the wake of the Herald series, the U.S. Department of Education slowed down its financial aid payments to Dade Medical, and the college went out of business.
Dade Medical owner Ernesto Perez was then criminally charged with illegally bundling more than $159,000 in campaign contributions. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two months of house arrest.