Rep. Duckworth Thinks For-Profit Schools Are ‘Predatory’ — Yet She Graduated From One

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Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent
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Illinois Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth has described for-profit schools as “predatory,” yet is the recipient of a Ph.D from a for-profit university that overcharged the federal government more than half a million dollars.

Duckworth graduated with a Ph.D. in human services from Capella University in 2015. Capella is a for-profit online university based out of Minneapolis.

The Illinois representative not only attended Capella, but she spoke at the university’s commencements in 2010 and 2015 and appeared in a series of Q&A videos promoting the school. Duckworth is a veteran and spoke in the Q&A about the benefits Capella provides for veterans.

“I had left my traditional university program and I realized that I could not do this where I had to be on the campus,” Duckworth said. “So I started Capella while I was ramping up my units training knowing that we were probably going to invade, this was 2001-2002, and then we received the mobilization alert that I was going to be deployed at the end of 2003, and that is when I dropped out of Capella.”

Duckworth would later return to Capella in 2010.

While having graduated from a for-profit school, Duckworth doesn’t think too highly of them. A 2015 local news write-up of a YWCA visit by Duckworth describes her as being “against corporate, for-profit schools because ‘they’re interested in putting profit first.'”

While running for Congress in 2012, Duckworth said, “I absolutely welcome a full investigation into the for-profit schools, because I think a majority of them are predatory.” She added, “the schools that are truly rigorous would be able to meet any standard that’s set out there. I think Capella would make it.”

Capella has received scrutiny throughout the years for aggressive recruitment tactics, low-expenditures on pupils and overcharging the federal government.

A 2008 audit from the Department of Education’s Inspector General states that regarding federal government loans, “The University did not return all funds disbursed on behalf of students who dropped before the first day of class of the payment period.”

“As a result, for the 2002-2003 through 2004-2005 award years, the University returned to the Title IV, HEA programs about $588,000 less than it should have returned,” the audit says.

“We recommend the Acting Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Federal Student Aid (FSA) require the University to review its files and return the improperly retained Title IV, HEA program funds; revise its policy for returning Title IV, HEA program funds; identify other incorrect calculations for withdrawals after the 2004-2005 award year; and recalculate and return those amounts. We also recommend that the Acting COO for FSA consider fine proceedings against the University,” the IG report states.

In 2007 a senate committee reviewing for-profit colleges found that Capella “spends an unusually high portion of revenue on marketing and a relatively small amount on instruction for its exclusively online program.”

The report found that at Capella, “each career counselor was responsible for 1,430 students and each student services staffer was responsible for 91 students. Meanwhile, the company employed one recruiter for every 77 students.”

“Capella spent $1,650 per student on instruction in 2009, compared to $4,538 per student on marketing and $2,912 on profit,” the report states. “By comparison, on a per student basis, the University of Minnesota spent $13,247 per student on instruction, and University of Saint Thomas spent $11,361 per student.”

In a 2015 lawsuit that was eventually settled, a former doctoral student at Capella sued claiming the school claiming she was mislead. “Capella intended to mislead plaintiff into believing that if she continued to pay tuition and follow the instruction of Capella personnel, she would soon successfully complete her dissertation and earn a doctoral degree,” the lawsuit stated.

She started the program in 2003 and her dissertation was rejected in 2011. She took out “six figures” in student loans to cover the costs.

Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who has endorsed Duckworth in her Senate run against Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, has said of the for-profit college industry that, “too many young people are lured into this belief: I can just log on and get a degree. Well, it turns out many times it is too darned expensive–and it is worthless, if you ever get it.”

Durbin has introduced legislation to increase oversight of for-profit colleges. He said in a statement in 2013, “How can we continue to give these outrageous, scandalous subsidies to these worthless companies?”

Capella University, which receives millions of dollars in federal subsidies, donated $1,500 through its PAC to Duckworth’s Senate campaign on June 20.