OPENSECRETS.ORG. JANUARY 31, 2013. Spending on lobbying was down across the board in 2012, but no interest group tightened the purse strings more than the education industry. In 2011, the industry, which includes both for-profit and nonprofit colleges and universities and trade associations that represent both, reported spending about $106 million on lobbying expenses. In 2012 it spent only $88.6 million -- a decline of more than $17.6 million.
According to Spreitzer, there were big issues this past year, including the threat of student loan rates doubling last summer, which was temporarily staved off after an outcry from students. Spreitzer said she suspects lobbying will intensify again in 2013 with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the return of the student loan interest rate fight, which was put off until this July.
Pell grants would be excluded from the first year of any cuts that might occur due to the looming budget sequestration are, but spending on grants for research universities would be threatened. A number of the top-spending universities, such as Boston University and Johns Hopkins University, lobbied on sequestration and potential funding cuts in the fourth quarter of 2012.
But the spending by Boston University, which upped its lobbying expenditures from $960,000 in 2011 to $1,050,000 in 2012, was more the outlier than the norm. Many of the universities and colleges tracked by OpenSecrets.org were more like Johns Hopkins, which spent slightly less in 2012, or Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh, which spent considerably less in 2012 than 2011 ($70,000 and $90,000 less, respectively.)
A few, like the State University of New York, seemed to drop almost completely off the lobbying map -- after four years of spending more than $1 million on lobbying, SUNY spent just $270,000 in 2012.
Large associations representing nonprofit universities and colleges also spent less. TheAssociation of American Medical Colleges, which is the top overall spender on lobbying in the education industry, spent $2.8 million in 2011 and $2.2 million in 2012.
For-Profits Back Off
Spending by for-profit colleges was also a large factor in the decline. In 2011, the industry spent about $10.2 million hiring lobbyists; in 2012, that dropped to $7.6 million.
In 2011, lobbying by for-profits was led by the Coalition for Education Success, a trade group, which spent roughly $1.8 million. But the group, which was organized in part to challenge what is know as the "gainful employment rule" (a rule proposed in 2010 that would require for-profit colleges to show their graduates had "gainful employment" after graduation or risk getting cutting off from lucrative federal aid), apparently disbanded last year after the proposed rule was watered down. Disclosure reports for the group show it spent just $190,000 in 2012 and terminated its contracts with lobbying firms.
Another big spender among for-profits two years ago was Bridgepoint Education, which spent $1.3 million on lobbying in 2011, when it was the target of a congressional inquiry over its low graduation rates but skyrocketing profits. But no formal action ever came of theinvestigation, which was led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). In 2012, the group's lobbying dropped to just shy of $1.1 million.
Similarly, the Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix and several other for-profit colleges, spent $1 million lobbying in 2011 and just $680,000 in 2012. That decline almost exactly mirrors the spending by the Career Education Corporation -- owner of several culinary institutes and technical schools -- which spent $1 million in 2011 and $750,000 in 2012.
One of the few for-profit groups that actually increased its lobbying expenditures was the Association of Private Colleges and Universities, which upped its spending slightly from $910,000 in 2011 to $960,000 in 2012.