Last week’s state elections attracted attention for a variety of causes and elections, most notably the defeat of Ohio’s tough new collective bargaining law and the defeat of the pro-life “personhood amendment” in Mississippi. But for for-profit colleges, the most important election of the night mostly flew under the radar: Democrat Jack Conway was re-elected as attorney general in Kentucky, defeating Republican Todd P’Pool by ten points.
Conway, who briefly rose to national prominence in 2010 when he ran for the US Senate against Rand Paul, has been investigating for-profits across the state—at least seven schools in Kentucky are under investigation by the AG’s office, and those investigated were none too happy about the scrutiny. I wrote a few months ago about one school’s reaction to an investigation from Conway—the school’s leaders reacted by donating $12,000 to P’pool’s campaign and the chancellor encouraged his employees to donate as well (that encouragement may have broken a state law against coercing employees to vote a certain way; the school is now under investigation in the matter).
Since then, the attacks have intensified: Frank Longaker, president of the for-profit National College, took out a large ad in the Lexington Herald-Leader attacking Conway and defending his school (and describing Kentucky’s public universities as being in “a sad state of affairs” compared to for-profits). A. R. Sullivan of Sullivan University said that Conway’s investigations were “a re-election sham.” But there were signs that Kentuckians were not persuaded by the image of for-profit colleges as bastions of hope and joy, under attack from the evil attorney general – for one thing, P’Pool never actually took a stance on the issue (though he did attend fundraisers for his campaign hosted by for-profit leaders). His campaign manager said that voters are “not asking him about culinary schools” on the campaign trail. And the Lexington Herald-Leader cited Conway’s vigorous investigations of for-profits as part of its reason for endorsing him.
Combine that with a wildly popular incumbent Democratic candidate for governor leading the ticket (Steve Beshear ended up beating his Republican challenger by more than 20 points), and Conway probably wasn’t too nervous going into the election. Still, now that it’s done and he’s earned another four years, I hope that Conway continues to vigorously pursue for-profit colleges. The leaders of the for-profit industry in Kentucky have, over the course of this campaign, proven themselves to be unethical and exploitative, and Conway should ascertain whether or not that affects the quality and costs of education there. When the industry fights so hard to get their investigator out of office, one wonders–what else are they hiding?
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