On the same day news broke that President-elect Donald Trump had agreed to pay a $25 million settlement resulting from fraud cases related to Trump University, top adviser Newt Gingrich was giving lobbying advice at a Dallas event hosted by the lobbying group representing America’s for-profit college industry.
Gingrich, the former GOP House speaker, is a vice chair of the transition team and has said he intends to be President Trump’s “general planner.” But on that Friday, there he was in Dallas, speaking at an event hosted by the Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), the leading trade association group representing for-profit colleges.
CECU, which was until recently known as Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), is known for having gone to war with the Obama administration over its attempt to regulate the vast flow of federal money that goes to for-profit colleges. In that lobbying war, it tapped many former lawmakers, including former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The Dallas event was planned to unveil the launch of a campaign to rebrand the association as focused on creating a new generation of “career professionals” educated by for-profit colleges.
Trump University — basically a series of haphazardly assembled seminars offering to teach students Trump’s investment skills — was not a member of CECU, but it utilized many of the same unseemly practices as other for-profit schools, including aggressively selling classes with little to no substance and leaving students with mountains of debt but few useful skills.
In Dallas, Gingrich talked about the election’s results and praised Trump’s victory. But he also offered advice to attendees about how to lobby for the interests of the industry. For example, Gingrich suggested they weaponize their student bodies to tout the benefits of “career education,” a phrase the industry uses to claim that it is preparing its student for work. Dallas News reporter Sanya Mansoor, who attended, provided The Intercept with an audio recording.
“Now if we had 20 percent of your alumni self-aware and going to their congressman’s town hall meeting to say ‘Let me tell you how career education changed my life,’ we’d [inaudible] a different country,” he said. “I mean, everybody expects you to say, ‘Hey, my school’s great.’ But, your students can validate you. Your students can say, ‘This is how my life was improved. This is why it worked for me. This is why I’d recommend it.’ And it’s vital that we create a student and alumni-centered approach particularly in reaching out to the Black Caucus and the Latino Caucus so that they feel they’re responding to the human, not the financial, side of this.”
Listen to it:
CECU has been in free fall over the past few years, shedding members, funding, and staff. The entire for-profit college industry itself has come under increasing scrutiny, with one recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper released earlier this year concluding that students who attended for-profit colleges to earn vocational certificates on average earned $900 less annually after attendance than they did before.
A spokesperson for CECU did not respond to an inquiry from The Intercept about whether Gingrich was compensated for his appearance in Dallas. Gingrich previously served as the keynote speaker at their 2015 annual meeting.