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Friday, August 29, 2014
MRC's Gainor Goes To Bat For For-Profit Colleges
Topic: Media Research Center

Dan Gainor's Aug. 25 Media Research Center article is a lengthy puff piece masquerading as "media research." He complains:

The Obama administration continues its push to regulate for-profit colleges and national media outlets have joined in and overwhelmingly taken the side of bigger government.

Three top newspapers – The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today – portrayed for-profit education negatively by a factor of 15-1 in roughly three years of news coverage.

The outlets have been laying the groundwork for more regulations, repeatedly painting for-profit education as a problem in need of solutions. The industry has been criticized for “exploitive and fraudulent practices” that “prey on veterans with misleading ads.” The colleges were bashed for their cost, their lobbying and “woefully inadequate education.” Journalists paid little attention to the challenges of educating students that more traditional schools would not accept.

Gainor spends the rest of the article bashing those newspapers for reporting the facts about problems with for-profit schools and ignoring the actual problems.

Gainor attacked the New York Times for covering the issue, complaining that "It even called them 'predatory schools' in April 2014, and 'predatory colleges' in May." Perhaps that's because that's what some of them are. One of the Times editorials Gainor criticized highlighted one analysis finding that "of the 4,420 career programs ... examined, 114 (all at for-profit institutions) had higher loan default rates than graduation rates — a situation created in part by schools that enroll poorly prepared students who can’t do the work but who borrow to pay tuition before eventually dropping out." These schools are "predatory," the Times explained, because they "rely on federal student aid for up to 90 percent of their revenue and are well versed in the art of evading the law."

Gainor went on to portray one for-profit operator, Corinthian Colleges, as the victim of a government conspiracy to run them out of business:

Corinthian Colleges, Inc. was one of the largest companies in the for-profit education field. But government had set out to take it down. It largely succeeded in July 2014.

The Los Angeles Times reported heavily on problems at the Santa Ana, Calif.,-based company – 11 full stories about what the paper called on July 16, 2014, “one of the most problematic players in the troubled for-profit college industry.” The stories featured complaining former students and angry former employees, along with the occasional comment from a company executive.

But Gainor neglects to mention the actual allegations the former students and employees made against Corinthian and outlined in that article. They include predatory marketing practices and falsely inflating placement rates.

Gainor also makes sure to skew his methodology for full propaganda impact:

The Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute analyzed education stories in three top general interest newspapers. The MRC examined USA Today, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. The other two papers landing in the top five for circulation are The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. The Journal was not included because it focuses mostly on finance. The Post was deliberately excluded because it had close financial ties with the industry for part of the study period.

Gainor didn't mention that the Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp., which also operates Fox News and, thus, automatically gets a pass.  While it's true that the Washington Post did have "close financial ties with the industry" -- until Jeff Bezos bought the paper in 2012, its ownership group also ran the Kaplan for-profit schools -- one suspects the Post's coverage of the issue was actually a little too balanced to fit snugly in Gainor's propaganda piece.

The issue of for-profit colleges has been essentially ignored by the MRC until Gainor's piece. That screams of Gainor either being asked, or paid, by the for-profit college industry to write it. 

Any chance Gainor will explain what's really behind his sudden interest in the issue? Don't count on it.

Posted by Terry K. at 7:52 PM EDT

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