Valley Voices

Jim Patterson: Victims of Heald closure deserve financial help

Attorney General Kamala Harris, with help from her allies in the U.S. Department of Education, has forced the closure of 28 privately-owned college campuses, stalling the futures of thousands of students. Not only did Harris shut down California-based Corinthian Colleges, she used the threat of continued lawsuits to frighten away potential buyers who represented the only glimmer of hope for students seeking to complete their education.

Heald College was owned by Corinthian and was forced to close in April. The Fresno campus provided Central Valley students with a quality education and opportunities to create successful careers for more than 100 years. For students who couldn’t access impacted programs at Fresno State or Fresno City College, Heald provided an opportunity to continue their education at an accelerated rate.

By strong-arming the private colleges into closing, Harris has hurt the very students she claims to be concerned about. Unfortunately, attacks on private colleges are likely to escalate as evidenced by a recently released U.S. Department of Education list showing a dozen more schools they have in their sites. The International Academy of Design & Technology, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, and American InterContinental University could be next.

Now that the actions of the state have figuratively broken the legs of these students, a crutch is being offered in the form of Assembly Bill 573. This bill would help students impacted by Corinthian’s demise to recoup lost tuition. It would also waive enrollment fees for those who enroll in community college and would restore their Cal Grant eligibility.

If signed by the Governor AB 573 would also force the collection of an additional $25 million in fees from already-strapped private college students in an effort to increase the STRF’s balance to $50 million. The newly-flush account will be used to reimburse other students following the inevitable forced closures of their own private colleges.

Unfortunately, legislative Democrats have blocked attempts by Republicans to amend AB 573 to ensure any monies collected in Harris’ civil suit against Corinthian are returned to students through the State Tuition Recovery Fund (STRF). Predictably, the money will instead go straight to the Attorney General’s office.

While Harris and legislators high-five one another for pushing AB 573 through the Assembly, we must not forget that their actions are responsible for creating the hardships in the first place. The sale of Corinthian’s campuses would have allowed students to continue their education, but Harris’ threats of litigation killed potential deals with three separate companies. Had she released her grip and allowed the sale, the students, 42 percent of whom were within six months of graduation, wouldn’t be left scrambling to find classes at other schools.

I voted to support AB 573 because I believe affected students are going to need help getting back on their feet, but I also firmly believe it was the Attorney General and the federal government’s bias against private colleges that knocked students down in the first place. Today, the future is uncertain for the 13,000 California students left with loans and nothing to show for them.

If the Attorney General is concerned with academic reform, her office should focus attention on California’s university system, which has many of its own problems. Almost 400 UC employees make more than $500,000 a year in base pay and bonuses, while the amount spent to educate each student continues to decrease. Meanwhile, the 23-campus Cal State system is cutting the number of units needed for a Bachelor’s Degree in order to churn more graduates. Are state students getting what their ever-increasing tuition is paying for? Or are they being shortchanged by what amounts to government-controlled monopoly?

Forgiving student loans and providing transcripts will help private college students who were cut loose months away from new careers, but my guess is they’d rather have their degrees.

Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, represents the 23rd District, which encompasses portions of Fresno and Tulare counties.