MADISON, Wis. — One Wisconsin Now praised Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ’s plan to use the Attorney General’s office to crackdown on unscrupulous for-profit colleges, which prey on students and in particular veterans.
“District Attorney Susan Happ has sent a clear message she will use her extensive experience as a prosecutor to hold wrong-doers in the for-profit college industry accountable and protect students, consumers and veterans hurt by this industry,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “It is long past time the state’s top cop does something to stop the rampant exploitation of students and taxpayers by the for-profit industry’s bad actors.”
There are more than 800,000 student loan borrowers in the state of Wisconsin, part of the 40 million-borrower, $1.2 trillion student loan debt crisis. Original research on student loan debt conducted by One Wisconsin Institute found that students with technical college or two-year degrees reported taking an average of 16.8 years to pay off their student loans. Overall student loan debt had a significant negative impact on the state economy. Borrowers were much more likely to rent versus own their home and buy a used versus new vehicle. Over $200 million in new vehicle sales are lost annually in Wisconsin, directly attributable to student loan debt.
Ross noted Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson have recently held events at for-profit colleges currently under investigation by authorities.
Gov. Walker recently visited a branch of ITT Tech that operates 145 campuses in 35 states and is one of four for-profit colleges under investigation by multiple attorneys general across the country. The ITT Tech chain is also under investigation in a separate inquiry by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for “predatory student lending,” “that ITT exploited its students and pushed them into high-cost private student loans that were very likely to end in default,” and “ITT used high-pressure tactics to push many consumers into expensive loans destined to default.” The CFPB is attempting “to get restitution for victims, a civil fine, and an injunction against the company.”
Further, ITT Tech focused intently on luring returning soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into signing up. In a comprehensive 2012 report authored by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, Sen. Tom Harking (D-Iowa) concluded ITT: “Documents also demonstrate a focus on recruiting students eligible for military benefits. ITT is the second highest recipient of post-9/11 GI bill funds, taking in $178 million between 2009 and 2011. In 2009, ITT initiated a military marketing plan with the goal of increasing military enrollments by 20 percent at 42 selected campuses.” [Page 530]
Walker has not called for Attorney General JB Van Hollen to join the suit, despite the plight facing students. He also helped disband a committee that was directed to look into the for-profit college industry after several closed abruptly in Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin Educational Approval Board estimates there are 26,000 students in Wisconsin paying for-profit colleges a total annual tuition of more than $150 million. During the 2012-13 school year, ITT Tech collected $827 million in federal student aid funds, including $586 million in student loans and $242 million in Pell Grants.
“It is indefensible that the Attorney General’s office has ignored this crisis. Susan Happ has given the victims of these domestic war profiteers actual hope that someone in law enforcement is looking out for them in Wisconsin,” said Ross.