THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Political strings attached to Ohio college scholarships?

Career College Central Summary:

  • State lawmakers are helping dole out $1 million in college scholarships this year, but they can keep the winners secret under a program run by a group of private, for-profit colleges.
  • The Ohio Association of Career Colleges and Schools, a lobbying group that represents for-profit schools statewide, requires students to get a lawmaker’s signature to be considered for its Legislative Scholarship program. The awards, offered by 30 schools, are valued at up to $44,000 each.
  • Association leaders said the goal is to promote civic engagement by putting students in touch with elected officials. Lawmakers said they’re happy to help students get job training and lower out-of-pocket costs.
  • But critics see the program as a veiled lobbying effort intended to gain favor with legislators. It allows lawmakers to take credit for helping students even though the money is from the association.
  • Others worry that it could be a foothold for corruption. Two other states have banned or reformed similar programs after lawmakers awarded scholarships to family members, friends and political backers.
  • “A reasonable person could ask if this is intended to curry favor with the Ohio legislature,” said Tony Bledsoe, the legislative inspector general at the Ohio Statehouse.
  • In Ohio, it’s impossible to know who gets the scholarships. About 50 lawmakers have nominated prospective students since 2012, according to the association. But the group doesn’t publicize winners, and state rules let lawmakers keep their scholarship nominations private. Most do.
  • Regardless of his feelings about the scholarships, Bledsoe said the scope of his authority limits him to warning lawmakers that they can’t do anything in exchange for personal reward and can’t provide recommendations for relatives or business associates.
  • The state board that oversees for-profit colleges doesn’t have purview over the program because the association decides winners, not its schools, said John Ware, executive director of the Ohio State Board of Career Colleges and Schools.
  • But Bledsoe said he “may very well” present the topic to the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, which can issue ethics advisories for state lawmakers.

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