college-costsFollowing on last week’s announcement of a $531 million judgment against the for-profit Corinthian College chain, the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki has this post-mortem in which he notes the decline of other giants in that sector — most notably the University of Phoenix, which saw enrollment drop by half since 2010.  And as he adds, last week the Department of Defense said it would no longer fund soldiers enrolled there.

Schools like Corinthian and U. Phoenix launched their programs ostensibly to make college available to more and often non-traditional students, but did so by pushing those students into loan debt they could never cover. Federal regulators are finally cracking down on that business model, and while that may mean reduced access to college for some, it raises this important question: At what price does that post-secondary education become meaningless?

Writes Surowiecki:

The crackdown is long overdue, but there’s an important consequence: fewer nontraditional students will be able to go to college. Defenders of the for-profit industry, including Republicans in Congress, have emphasized this point in order to forestall tougher regulation.

But if we really want more people to go to college we should put more money into community colleges and public universities, which have been starved of funding in recent years. We should also rethink our assumption that college is always the right answer, regardless of cost. Politicians love to invoke education as the solution to our economic ills. But they’re often papering over the fact that our economy just isn’t creating enough good jobs for ordinary Americans. The notion that college will transform your job prospects is, in many cases, an illusion, and for a while for-profit schools turned it into a very lucrative one.


Federal regulators won an important battle in the war against predatory for-profit colleges this week when a federal judge in Illinois entered a $531 million judgment against the now bankrupt Corinthian Colleges chain, finding that the company deceived students about future career opportunities and violated unfair and deceptive practice prohibitions.

The award came after Corinthian filed for bankruptcy and stopped defending itself in the lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year.

It’s unlikely that students will see any money from the company as a result, but the judgment may allow them to seek forgiveness of loans received from the U.S. Department of Education.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

The agency has already said it will forgive loans for up to 40,000 former Heald [California] students of who owe between $500 million and $600 million. The agency is considering requests by other former students of Corinthian schools. In total, 350,000 students owing roughly $3.5 billion could ultimately be eligible for forgiveness, officials have said.

Corinthian operated one of the largest for-profit college chains in the country, with more than 100 campuses and approximately 74,000 students.

In the lawsuit the Bureau had alleged that Corinthian lured tens of thousands of students to take out private loans to cover expensive tuition costs by advertising bogus job prospects and career services. Corinthian then used illegal debt collection tactics to strong-arm students into paying back those loans while still in school.

“For too many students, Corinthian has turned the American dream of higher education into an ongoing nightmare of debt and despair,” Director Richard Corday said at the time.

For more on the case and on the loan-to-value crisis for students at for-profit schools, read here.




The current U. S. Supreme Court term is barely a month old, but the justices have already heard argument in four death penalty cases — and will hear a fifth on Monday — making the term the most important for capital punishment issues in decades, legal experts say.

The justices themselves fueled speculation near the end of last term that the court might finally address the death penalty’s viability under the Eighth Amendment, with Justice Stephen Breyer (joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) opining in Glossip v. Gross that it was “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.”  And Justice Antonin Scalia last week told an audience at the University of Minnesota Law School that he “wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court eventually strikes down capital punishment.”

That question has not yet been squarely put before the high court, but the term is young and with five death penalty cases already under their collective belt, the justices still have plenty of time to take it on.

Monday’s case, Foster v. Chatman, raises an issue well known to North Carolinians — racial bias in juror selection in capital cases — and comes at a time when the state Supreme Court itself is grappling with cases arising under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act.

As described by Rory Little at SCOTUSblog:

Foster, an eighteen-year-old African American at the time, was convicted of killing an elderly white woman during a burglary in Georgia. During jury selection, the prosecutor struck all four black potential jurors, and Foster was convicted and sentenced by an all-white jury. When an objection was raised under the Court’s 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, the prosecutor offered “race neutral” reasons for striking the black jurors, while protecting his file from discovery.

Some nineteen years later, the prosecutor’s jury selection notes — produced pursuant to an Open Records Act request — revealed a direct targeting of black jurors, but state courts refused to entertain Foster’s request for relief.

For more on the growing push to end capital punishment, and reasons why, read here and here.




A new report out by the group Justice at Stake, in conjunction with  the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, ranks North Carolina second in the nation for spending on judicial elections in 2014, with more than $6 million doled out during that cycle.

The $4 million raised by the nine candidates for the four open seats on the state Supreme Court during those elections also broke state candidate fundraising records.

Among the other findings in Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14 were these:

• Because the legislature eliminated public financing, candidates looked to lawyers and lobbyists for support. Donations from these categories made up more than 40 percent of total contributions to candidates and made North Carolina second in judicial candidate fundraising across the nation.
• The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) was the biggest single source of election funds in the state. It gave $1.3 million to a local group called Justice for All NC, which spent $1.4 million on the North Carolina Supreme Court races and was the fifth highest spender nationally in 2013-14.
• Several groups with business interests sponsored TV ads in the election, including the North Carolina Chamber IE — a political arm of the state Chamber of Commerce — and the North Carolina Judicial Coalition.
• The 2014 race marked the second consecutive North Carolina Supreme Court election cycle to generate seven-figure spending. In 2012, $4.5 million was spent on a single seat, although both candidates had opted into the then-operative public financing system.
• North Carolina ranked second nationally for TV spending at $3.1 million and first for the total number of ad airings at 10,903. Justice for All NC ran one of the most negative ads of the 2013-14 election cycle against incumbent Justice Hudson, claiming she ruled in favor of child predators. The North Carolina Bar Association condemned the spot.

“In 2014, the absence of North Carolina’s landmark judicial public financing program opened the door for a dramatic rise in special-interest spending in court races, which was exacerbated by a flood of spending by outside groups,” said Melissa Price Kromm, executive director of the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Coalition, which partnered with the Institute for Southern Studies to track the growth of spending in North Carolina’s 2014 judicial elections. “These findings underscore the need for common-sense reforms, including greater transparency and restoring North Carolina’s effective judicial public financing program.”

Read the full report here.


VoteIn proceedings held this morning in the pending federal voting rights cases, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder denied the state’s request to dismiss voter ID claims, saying that the law’s challengers still had remedies available to them should they establish a disproportionate impact upon African-American and Latinos.

The decision came after the state rejected efforts by the parties challenging election law changes to resolve voter ID claims, insisting instead that the court first rule on the motion to dismiss (for more read this morning’s post here).

In that motion, defendants argued that the recently-enacted “reasonable impediment” provision, upheld by courts elsewhere, mooted the constitutional challenge to North Carolina’s voter ID requirement.

But a state court judge here had already rejected that argument in a separate voter ID case pending in Superior Court.

“North Carolina’s voter ID requirement remains an undue and unlawful burden on voters of color,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. “[The state] wanted the photo ID provision of the law dismissed because they don’t want the court to focus on their discriminatory intent to deny and abridge African American & Latino voters’ right to vote.”