Arbitration clauses, as many commentators have noted, tend to favor corporate entities over individuals. Students who signed arbitration agreements can't sue the institution they attended in court even if they have a fraud claim. Arbitration clauses generally prohibit class action suits, which would be a useful way for a group of defrauded students to band together to get relief. And arbitration decisions are generally secret. Thus, even if a university loses an arbitration dispute with a student who was victimized, other injured students are unlikely to learn about it.
Please forgive my cynicism about the for-profit industry, but here's my first reaction. When a for-profit college does the right thing, it's probably in trouble. And University of Phoenix is in big trouble.
Enrollments are down by more than half from Phoenix's peak enrollments. Its stock price, once as high as $90 a share, is now selling for a little more than nine bucks. The key senior executives have negotiated a deal with three private equity groups to buy the Apollo Education Group and Phoenix, and all the big boys will get golden parachutes.
The key player in the buyout partnership is Martin Nesbitt, literally Barack Obama's best friend. And the guy in charge (if the deal goes through) will be Tony Miller, former Deputy Secretary of Education in the Obama administration. Such a cozy arrangement.
So what the heck--why not eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses now, especially since that is what the Department of Education wants the for-profits to do.
But--as I've said before--DOE's push against mandatory arbitration clauses is tardy. President Obama has been in office seven and half years, and DOE is just now getting around to addressing this serious problem. And new rules will be going through a negotiated rulemaking process that the for-profit industry knows well. There is a very good chance that any new rule restricting mandatory arbitration clauses in student enrollment agreements will be watered down.
Nevertheless, Apollo Education Group's announcement is a good start, and higher-education reformers should take heart. Not that there are any higher-education reformers. Just you and me; that's just about everybody.
U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education Takes Further Steps to Protect Students from Predatory Higher Education Institutions. March 11, 2016. Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-takes-further-steps-protect-students-predatory-higher-education-institutions?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=
News Release. Apollo Education Group to Eliminate Mandatory Arbitration Clauses. May 19, 2016.
Accessible at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=79624&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2169809
Ronald Hansen. Apollo Education sale 'golden parachute' could be worth $22 million to executives. Arizona Republic, March 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2016/03/08/apollo-education-sale-executives-payout-22-million/81483912/
Sarah Jones. Top Apollo Education Investor Urges Board to Resist Takeover. Bloomberg News, January 29, 2016. Accessible at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-29/top-apollo-education-investor-urges-board-to-resist-takeover
Patria Cohen and Chad Bray. University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, Will Be Taken Private. New York Times, February 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/business/dealbook/apollo-education-group-university-of-phoenix-owner-to-be-taken-private.html
Soyong Kim. Apollo teams with Washington insider for education deal. Reuters, January 12, 2016. Accessible at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apollo-education-m-a-apollo-global-idUSKCN0UQ23W20160112
Dan Primack. Obama's 'best friend' raises millions for private equity fund. Fortune Magazine, August 11, 2014. Accessible at http://fortune.com/2014/08/11/obamas-best-friend-raises-millions-for-private-equity-fund/