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Marco Rubio slams Trump University but has own ties to embattled for-profit colleges


Marco Rubio highlighted Donald Trump's for-profit college ties in Thursday night's Republican debate. What Rubio didn't mention: His own connections to the embattled industry.

Here's what my colleague Michael Vasquez and I wrote about the industry and some of the presidential candidates, back in August:

For years, for-profit colleges have been accused of predatory tactics and taxpayer fraud. In May, scandal-plagued Corinthian Colleges, which operated Everest University and other brands, declared bankruptcy. Corinthian’s implosion marked the largest school collapse in U.S. higher education history and came amid widespread allegations that the school falsely inflated its job placement rates.

Last year, as Corinthian was beginning to unravel, Rubio wrote to the Department of Education asking the feds to “demonstrate leniency” with the company. The letter was first reported by Bloomberg

“Senator Rubio felt it was important to protect the thousands of students in Florida from being punished and having their educations disrupted while the investigation was underway,” his campaign told the Herald. “Ultimately it was found that Corinthian was misreporting information to attract prospective students, which is wrong and unacceptable for any institution of higher education.”

Rubio’s links with Corinthian go back many years. As an up-and-coming state lawmaker in 2006, Rubio wrote 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future

A longtime Corinthian executive vice president, Mark Pelesh, is listed as a “contributor” in the acknowledgment section of Rubio’s book. A year after the book was published, Pelesh wrote an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat praising Rubio's “Idea #12,” which would push traditional schools such as community colleges to accept transfer credits from for-profit schools. 

Rubio himself had been a transfer student in the early 1990s and dealt with the hassle of transferring credits. But Corinthian had been sued, multiple times, by students who said school recruiters made false promises that their credits would transfer to traditional schools. 

After Rubio’s 100 Ideas came out, Florida lawmakers asked for a study of whether colleges were creating “unnecessary barriers” to the transfer of credits. 

Pelesh stayed at Corinthian until 2013. In April, he wrote a $2,700 check to Rubio’s campaign. Between his Senate and presidential campaigns, Rubio and his affiliated political committees  have received at least $59,400 in for-profit industry contributions, including $12,600 linked to Corinthian.

Pelesh declined to comment for this story. The Herald asked Rubio’s campaign if Pelesh helped write Idea #12. 

The response: “Senator Rubio and his staff have discussed a wide variety of education reforms with a number of different experts and industry leaders in higher education.” 

In Congress last year, Rubio sponsored a bill that would have created a path to federal jobs for for-profit college graduateswho are typically shut out of those positions.

“Those who have the skills and aptitude to be successful in a job deserve the opportunity to be considered for employment, even if they learned the trade from a non-traditional source,” Rubio said at the time. The bill didn’t pass.

Another Rubio proposal, the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, would require universities to tell incoming students what jobs and salaries they can expect with a given degree — a requirement for-profit schools might find difficult to fulfill. 

Rubio has pushed for other changes, including allowing schools to bypass the traditional accreditation process, that could benefit for-profits — though Rubio doesn’t frame it that way.

In a speech last month, Rubio blasted existing colleges and universities for wielding too much power.

“Within my first 100 days, I will bust this cartel by establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers,” Rubio said.

Read more here: