John Oliver Mocks Government For Not Paying Off All Student Loans

For-profit colleges suffer the brunt of comedian’s rant.

In John Oliver’s perfect world, for-profit colleges don’t exist, and the government pays off everyone’s student loans. After lambasting for-profit colleges extensively, Oliver got to the heart of his argument: the government should foot the bill for all student loans.

For-profit colleges are new to the education sector, largely popularized by the advent of online courses giving students the ability to attend schools like the University of Phoenix part-time, while still working and living anywhere else in the world.

Naturally, this has infuriated the traditional non-profit schools. The left, including President Barack Obama, has led a campaign to tighten regulations specifically on for-profit education and the media have helped made the case for him.

The industry has been criticized for “exploitive and fraudulent practices,” that “prey on veterans with misleading ads,” by three top newspapers: The New York Times, USA Today and Los Angeles Times. Journalists at the three papers were consistently on the side of traditional schools. They bashed for-profit colleges for their cost, their lobbying and “woefully inadequate education.”

Because of the structure of the for-profit model, many students opt to take a few classes to supplement work they’re doing at other colleges, or just to educate themselves in a particular topic, leading to a skewed enrollment to graduation ratio.

After parroting attacks on for-profit colleges, Oliver’s real point about higher education came out at the very end of a 16-minute segment, when he argued that “the student debt problem is far bigger than just for profit schools. If they all went away, the student debt problem would still be here. Because our leaders have decided that, while education is incredibly important, it is not important enough to actually pay for.”

Student debt has grown by three times in the past decade, according to a New York Times article that Oliver cited (although the College Board chart shows a much smaller increase). However, the number of students enrolled in colleges has also increased, by 32 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Postbaccalaureate enrollment (more than a bachelor’s degree) has risen a full 78 percent between 1985 and 2011.

— Mike Ciandella is Research Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Mike Ciandella on Twitter.