Senator Tom Harkin, D-IA, speaks at an event to kick of a day of lobbying in support of the Employee Free Choice Act September 10, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Senator Tom Harkin, D-IA, speaks at an event to kick of a day of lobbying in support of the Employee Free Choice Act September 10, 2009 in Washington, DC. - 

Jeff Horwich: Senator Tom Harkin is out today with a scathing report on for-profit colleges. The report says taxpayers spend billions of dollars a year on those schools. But students often leave deep in debt.

From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR in Baltimore, here's Amy Scott.


Amy Scott: As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin has spent two years investigating for-profit colleges. His final report documents a litany of abuses.

Tom Harkin: Exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and profit. And these aren't exceptions. That is the norm.

For-profit colleges make most of their money from federal financial aid programs. In the 2009 and 2010 school year, that amounted to $32 billion.

Harkin says they spend more of that money on marketing and recruiting than on instruction.

Harkin: Federal money should be spent on education. Not advertising, not recruiting, not lobbying.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities -- and Republicans on the education committee - called the report biased, and took issue with a number of its findings.

For example, the industry says it has a higher graduation rate than reported.

Harkin's report recommends forbidding schools from using federal funding for marketing and recruiting.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports