Politico Spins Education Debate, Underestimates Grassroots Opposition

It is easy to spin the truth when you use blatantly incorrect data.

The Department of Education concluded its public comment period on May 28 to consider increased regulations on for-profit education. That morning, Politico Magazine published a biting article criticizing “industry” opposition to further regulations. Then Politico incorrectly asserted “more than 1,500 comments,” comments were submitted, downplaying grassroots opposition to increased bureaucratic controls.

However, both critics of the regulations and the Education Dept. said that number was inaccurate. The Institute for Liberty claimed it submitted about 15,000 “grassroots comments” demonstrating popular opposition to regulations. The Department of Education’s press office told the Business and Media Institute that the department would be tallying comments until early the first week in June and had no preliminary estimate.

For-profit colleges have opposed increased regulations. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities criticized the proposed rules, saying they “will severely limit access and opportunity for students” and that they “[use] arbitrary metrics to evaluate programs.” Industry opponents have launched numerous attacks on for-profit colleges, alleging “predatory” practices. For example, U.S. News & World Report’s Rory O’Sullivan claimed that for-profit colleges “systematically exploit” their students.

Based on these criticisms, the Department of Education proposed regulations forcing these colleges to ensure that graduates pay back student loans. The regulations have been stringently opposed at the grassroots level.

Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty, claimed he submitted approximately 15,000 comments to the Department of Education opposing these regulations. Langer told BMI that these comments were gathered through a widespread phone poll, indicating grassroots opposition to increased federal control over education.

Yet Politico, while attempting to spin opposition as industry orchestrated, simply referred to “more than 1,500 comments” alleging that “many [were] in favor of the industry.”

Politico’s underestimate was consistent with its attempts to push gainful employment regulations. It accused for-profit schools of “fail[ing] to prepare students” and said the for-profit education industry was waging a “permanent campaign” against regulations. Specifically, Politico described a strategy of “litigation, lobbying and savvy PR” including “over $7 million last year through lobbying” alone.