U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy pushed Friday for passage of the Students Before Profits Act as a way to prevent abuses among for-profit colleges like the Marinello Schools of Beauty, which closed its campuses in Niantic and nationwide this week after being cited for fraudulent business practices.
Murphy, D-Conn., said the legislation he introduced this session would prevent deceptive marketing practices by requiring schools to provide students with accurate information while making business executives personally liable for shady practices and poor performance.
"The people I talk to in Connecticut are sick of for-profit schools exploiting both the ambitions of students and the pocketbooks of taxpayers," Murphy said in a statement. "Not all for-profit schools are scams, but too many take in billions in federal grants and loans and expect the government to clean up the mess when their scheme inevitably comes crashing down."
Among the bill's provisions are:
- Stronger penalties for schools that misrepresent costs, completion rates and employment prospects.
- Implementation of a Student Relief Fund to help students who were defrauded.
- Barring of business executives at schools cited for enforcement actions from taking similar high-ranking positions at other institutions.
"Irresponsible executives who deliberately gamble with their students' futures should be liable for the damage they cause and bear the cost for putting their students back on track," he said. "Not only would this punish the industry's bad actors, but we can prevent future catastrophes by making it crystal clear that executives will be on the hook for the decisions they make."
Marinello's Niantic campus closed Friday, ending several decades in which the village boasted a downtown beauty school. At the end, only about five students were enrolled in programs, according to a current student who said Marinello was the last beauty school in New London County.
Peyton Allen of Groton, a former student of the beauty school, said Friday that she left the program after only three or four months because she wasn't learning anything. She said teachers often wouldn't show up and substitutes didn't know what they were doing.
"We basically had to teach ourselves," she said. "It was ridiculous."
Marinello announced Thursday the closure of all 56 campuses nationwide after the U.S. Department of Education refused to recertify its students' ability to take out federal loans, citing a number of financial and administrative irregularities, including a charge that the company had fabricated high school diplomas. The closures included six campuses in Connecticut; one other site had been closed down last month.
Both Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have said they were urging the federal government to forgive student debts for Marinello attendees who are not able to complete their education. Murphy said anyone seeking information on discharging debts should visit the U.S. Department of Education's website or call his office at 860-549-8463.