Mr. Miller said students from the for-profit sector have long wanted to get more involved. He said a group of students attending the association’s annual Hill Day lobbying event this spring got together and asked whether they could get support from the association to put together a formal student organization.
Ms. Connor, however, said the idea originated not with students but representatives of for-profits schools, including faculty, who approached students during the event to gauge their interest.
The Career College Association is “the grandfather for us,” Ms. Connor said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where the student group was introduced at the association’s annual convention, which ended Friday. “They kind of got us going. But now they’re taking the training wheels off and saying, ‘Go for it, and let’s see what you guys can do.’ “
Ms. Connor was a collegiate drifter. She said she graduated early from high school and enrolled at three nonprofit colleges, changing majors a few times without earning a degree.
Then she found the Eau Claire campus of for-profit Globe University, which offered a flexible schedule that allowed her to attend class at night while she worked full time in a health care job.
It wasn’t cheap. Tuition to complete a two-year associate’s degree in veterinary technology at Globe runs $44,820, and lab fees and books are extra. Ms. Connor said it cost her less because she had transfer credits.
Even so, she said the state-of-the-art surgical suites and small classes were worth the extra expense.
Her experience was so good, she raised her hand when the university’s government affairs liaison sent an e-mail looking for students to represent the school at the Career College Association’s Hill Day in March in Washington.
Career college officials argue that the proposal would shutter job-training programs while doing nothing to fix the debt problem; they propose giving students more information as an alternative solution.
Not everyone is impressed. Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, calls Students for Academic Choice “an industry-sponsored group.” Ms. Asher criticized its website, which features little more than the petition, “as not giving folks who come to it any information about what’s sponsoring it or what’s really at stake.”
At the same time, for-profit college students don’t really have a home in established groups. The United States Student Association, billed as the country’s largest student-led organization, has no for-profit college student members.
Legislative director Angela Peoples said the association hopes to change that and will reach out to the new group. She welcomed the new voice but also said it’s needed because for-profit students don’t get a say as student trustees or in the tuition-setting process as students at traditional schools do.
Supporters of the gainful-employment proposal say for-profit college programs can avoid closure simply by cutting their tuition and improving their product. What student, they wonder, wouldn’t go for that?
“The for-profit sector is basically subsidized by federal loans,” said Kevin Kinser, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Albany, who studies for-profit colleges. “So there’s an important interest that we’re subsidizing students but not the for-profits themselves.”