The issue of for-profit colleges is a hot political debate, but until now, for-profits haven’t been mentioned in the presidential election (though they were a major issue in last year’s race for attorney general in Kentucky). But now, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination has injected himself into the debate on for-profit costs and outcomes.
A few days ago, the New York Times published a story about the financial connections between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the for-profit Full Sail University. Full Sail’s CEO, Bill Heavener, is a Romney campaign co-chair in Florida and, with his wife, he has donated $50,000 to the campaign and to Mitt Romney “Super-PAC,” Restore Our Future. Full Sail is owned by a private equity firm called TA Associates; its chairman, C. Kevin Landry, has also given $40,000 to Restore Our Future.
Romney endorsed the school at appearances in both Iowa and New Hampshire, suggesting that students should consider it when looking at colleges. Here is Romney’s reason, according to the Times, for why students should attend Full Sail.
By increasing competition, for-profit institutions like Full Sail, which focuses on the entertainment field, “hold down the cost of education” and help students get jobs without saddling them with excessive debt, [Romney] said.
Romney is making two claims about Full Sail: One, that it helps students get jobs, and two, that it does so without putting them in much debt. He also implies that this is a better deal than a student would get at a not-for-profit school. How do these assertions compare to the facts?
Full Sail University has poor completion rates. It’s well hidden on their website, but you can find the information about the completion rates here. Of the fourteen associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs it offers on campus, none have on-time completion rates that are above 50%. “Game Art” has an on-time completion rate of 14 percent, “Computer Animation” is 23 percent. The numbers are worse for their online programs (though many have no data available “as students have not yet matriculated from the program.”).
Full Sail University students end up in debt. The median private loan debt for those Game Art graduates is more than $40,000. For Computer Animation, it’s more than $55,000. Graphic Design students, who have on average the lowest debt, still clock in with a median of $17,500 owed.
Romney said that “You’re going to find students saying: ‘You know what? That’s not a bad deal. I’m not willing to come out of college with a hundred thousand dollars in debt.’ ” No – but you may come out of college $55,000 in debt.
In addition, Full Sail’s tuition is significantly higher than that at public institutions. An associate’s degree at Full Sail costs about $40,000 for a year and half of school; the average public two-year college costs just $5,926. A bachelor’s degree at Full Sail will take two and a half to four years and cost $56,000 to $80,000; the average four-year public school costs $32,976 for in-state students (Full Sail tuition from its website; average public school information from The College Board).
Romney hasn’t commented on the story.
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