Fred Grimm

Marco Rubio finally stands up (sort of) against for-profit college scams

Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, left, and businessman Donald Trump argue while answering a question during the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, Houston.
Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, left, and businessman Donald Trump argue while answering a question during the Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Houston Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, Houston. AP Photo/Houston Chronicle

At last, someone in the Florida political hierarchy stood up for the hapless victims of for-profit education schemes. A surprise someone — our own U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio’s epiphany was a long time coming. His support for dodgy for-profit education ventures had been undaunted until he found himself going mano a mano with the founder of Trump University.

Suddenly, Marco became an educational consumer advocate, railing during last week’s raucous presidential debate. “There are people that borrow $36,000 to go to Trump University, and they’re suing him now. And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump.”

In 2014, Sen. Rubio fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Education suggesting that the agency “can and should demonstrate leniency” for Corinthian Colleges.

High time someone in the Florida power structure took notice of this stuff. Especially Rubio, who heretofore had been a supporter of questionable for-profit education ventures. In 2014, he fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Education suggesting that the agency “can and should demonstrate leniency” for Corinthian Colleges, a corporate chain accused of systematically misleading students with wildly embellished graduation rates and job placement claims.

Corinthian, which at its peak operated 105 “campuses” under various names in 26 states and Canada, including 15 schools in Florida, had also been sued by attorneys general in California, New York, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts. Plus, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was digging into Corinthian’s high pressure loan and debt collection practices. The company had wangled about $4 billion in federally guaranteed loans and another $2 billion in federal grants since 2010.

Yet Rubio remained Corinthian’s great champion. His loyalty to such questionable ventures seemed bewildering, though my colleagues Patricia Mazzei and Michael Vasquez turned up a clue last fall, when they discovered that Rubio and his various political committees had received at least $59,400 in campaign contributions from the for-profit college industry — including $12,600 from contributors linked to Corinthian.

Sen. Rubio’s appeal for leniency didn’t help the company. The feds suspended U.S.-backed grants and loans for Corinthian students — eliminating most of the company’s operating capital — and the chain went belly up. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year forgave $480 million of debts for students who had been “lured into high-cost loans destined to default, and then targeted with aggressive debt collection tactics.”

Rubio seems far less sympathetic to Trump University, a series of ever-pricier business seminars that Donald Trump promised would feature lecturers who were “the best of the best.” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Trump University, calling it “a scam from top to bottom.”

Similar complaints were piling up in Florida. But Florida AG Pam Bondi’s office lost interest in pursuing Trump University back in 2013 after she attended a swell fundraiser at Donald Trump’s palatial Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

Bondi collected a $25,000 campaign contribution that night from the Donald. We’ll just call that a learning experience, the best lesson old Trump U ever offered on why for-profit education scams work so well in Florida.

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