ITT Educational Services, owner of ITT Technical Institute, is on the verge of collapse. A few days ago, the U.S. Department of Education issued a directive barring ITT from enrolling any students who rely on federal financial aid to pay their tuition.
DOE's recent action may be the coup de grâce for this tottering for-profit chain of technical schools. ITT gets 80 percent of its revenues from federal student aid monies. Now that DOE has turned off the spigot of federal funds, ITT's days are numbered. In fact, if you want to measure ITT's pulse, just look at its stock price. The company's stock was trading today at about 51 cents a share. In 2009, the stock sold at more than 200 times today's price--$128!
Shahien Nasiripour, a Bloomberg reporter, argued recently that the Department of Education does not know what it is doing when it comes to regulating for-profit colleges. Nasiripour wrote that DOE bungled the regulation of Corinthian Colleges and was surprised when the college chain filed for bankruptcy, leaving thousands of students in the lurch. Nasiripour quoted an observer who said that "[t]he Education Department hasn't been a good analyst of corporate balance sheets."
Now, Nasiripour maintains, DOE is repeating its mistake with ITT and may "unwittingly exacerbate ITT's financial woes."
I disagree with Nasiripour. I think DOE knows exactly what it is doing to ITT and is fully mindful that its recent regulatory actions will likely drive ITT out of business. DOE surely knows that cutting ITT off from federal student aid money will shut off most of its revenues. And not long ago, DOE ordered ITT to almost double its cash reserves--from $124 million to $247 million, which ITT almost certainly is unable to do.
Why is the Obama's DOE acting so aggressively against the for-profit college industry now that Obama has less than three months left in his final term? Is DOE moving against the for-profits now because Obama no longer cares about the political consequences of cracking down on a powerful industry?
Or is DOE pressuring the for-profits to drive down their stock prices so that friendly investors can snap them up for a song and make a killing? Martin Nesbitt, a close confidant of Barack Obama, is leading a group of equity funds to purchase Apollo Education Group, the University of Phoenix's owner. If the deal goes through, Nesbitt's partners will only pay around $9 a share for the stock--about a tenth of Apollo's all-time-high share price.
If ITT gets bought up by financial vultures, it will be interesting to see if the new owners have ties to the Obama administration.
But let's give Obama's DOE the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is finally doing what it should have done a long time ago, which is aggressively regulate the for-profit industry in order to protect students from disreputable operators.
But DOE officials should remember that shutting down reputedly shady for-profit colleges is only half the job. Corinthian Colleges had about 300,000 former students at the time it filed for bankruptcy and most of them took out federal student loans. All those people should have their student loans forgiven.
If DOE shuts down ITT--which it is apparently trying to do with its recent regulatory actions, it needs to provide relief for all of ITT's indebted students--both current enrollees and former students.
If ITT closes and DOE forces all these hapless student-loan debtors into a tedious administrative process in order to get their student loans forgiven, then we will know that the Obama administration doesn't really care about the students who attended for-profit colleges. Rather, knowingly or unknowingly, DOE may simply be driving down the value of for-profit colleges in a way that allows new investors to swoop down and scoop them up at bargain prices.
Shahien Nasiripour. The Obama Administration Could Cause the Next Big For-Profit College Collapsehttp://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-09/the-obama-administration-could-cause-the-next-big-for-profit-college-collapse. Bloomberg.com, June 9, 2016. Accessible at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-09/the-obama-administration-could-cause-the-next-big-for-profit-college-collapse
Josh Mitchell. Education Department Orders ITT Educational to Bolster Finances. Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/education-department-orders-itt-educational-to-bolster-finances-1465246531
Mark Muckenfuss. New Sanctions Against ITT Tech will limit enrollment. Press Enterprise, August 26, 2016. Acessible at http://www.pe.com/articles/students-811674-itt-school.html