Influence 101: How Big Money Lobbyists And Campaign Donors Hurt Students
(Download the full factsheet)
Students graduating from college today face skyrocketing levels of student loan debt, as tuition costs and textbook prices have continued to rise far faster than the normal rate of inflation. At the same time, state and federal governments are cutting financial support for higher education, forcing more of the load onto the shoulders of students and their families.
This is no accident. As is too often typical today, industries that profit off everyday people and taxpayers have not hesitated to spend heavily on lobbyists and campaign contributions to influence policy decisions for their corporate gain. Students and their families, already stretched thin by college costs, can’t keep up in this influence game.
This factsheet looks at the lobbying and campaign contributions of three large education-related industries: student loans, for-profit colleges, and textbook publishers, and draws connections to some of the government policies coming from Washington that benefit these special interests. What is clear in the linkages between industry influence and the government's education policy is that oftentimes behind a raw deal for students stands a powerful industry pulling strings to keep profiting at the expense of students and their families.
- As student loans have increased dramatically—doubling over the last 10 years—the student loan industry has kept a high profile to maintain government policies favorable to its bottom line. The student loan industry has spent $50.1 million lobbying Congress and $7.7 million in campaign contributions since 2000.
- The student loan industry’s allies in Congress helped pass new bankruptcy laws in 1998 and 2005 that made it nearly impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy, and have resisted recent efforts to once again treat student loan debt normally.
- Pell grants now cover less than half of the proportion of college costs that they did 30 years ago, due to federal funding not keeping up with rising tuition rates. Students often must resort to larger loans—padding the loan industry’s bottom line—to make up the difference.
- For-profit colleges get 80 percent of their revenue from government backed loans and grants, and they spent $10.2 million in lobbying last year and $3 million in campaign contributions so far in the 2012 elections to keep the money flowing.
- Even as textbook costs have risen from under $325 in 1986 to $1,168 today, the textbook industry has dumped $1.4 million in campaign contributions to political candidates and parties and $35 million in lobbying since 2000. They have used this influence to push for draconian intellectual property policies like the Stop Online Piracy Act, to help shut down competition that could save students money.