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2016-04-28

Senate candidate scrutinized for ties to ‘predatory’ for-profit college

By Scott Braddock

By Scott Braddock
www.quorumreport.com
Reprinted with permission

Some longtime advocates for veterans are raising serious questions about a Texas Senate candidate’s ties to a for-profit university that’s been accused of “predatory” practices when recruiting students, particularly students who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
Austin-area physician Dawn Buckingham, who is in a GOP runoff with Rep. Susan King for the seat being vacated by Sen. Troy Fraser, has served on the Board of Governors of National American University and has received significant income from the company.
The school, where Dr. Buckingham’s father-in-law, Robert Buckingham, is chairman, was named in a 2012 US Senate committee report as one of the for-profit colleges where there was evidence of “exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayer dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation.” Some veterans have called the school a “scam to steal student money.”
Buckingham’s campaign has not commented on the issue, which was first raised with her late last week.
The Senate report, which you can see here, said most students at these institutions were left without a degree and in major debt.
One of the ways National American University and others would recruit students was through a website called GIBill.com, according to the Senate report. On that site, operated by a company called QuinStreet, veterans seeking ways to wisely use their benefits would enter their personal information while under the impression they were being guided by the Veterans Administration.
But that was not the case.
The site, which was subsequently shut down after 20 attorneys general filed suit, sent that personal information to companies like National American University and others. After complaints of misleading veterans, QuinStreet paid $2.5 million in a settlement and surrendered the site to the government.
Jim Brennan, legislative director for the Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations, said Buckingham's ties to a “predatory higher education institution” are deeply troubling. “These universities go in and target veterans and market this as a path for your educational benefits,” Brennan said. “We are very, very concerned about it.
“Any time you have an association with an entity that has that kind of track record involving veterans, that's a red flag,” Brennan said, and added that he has shared his concerns with Buckingham.
Brennan was in the audience last Thursday morning at the Austin Club when Buckingham was interviewed by Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune. After the interview had concluded, Brennan approached Buckingham as she was exiting the stage. They politely and briefly spoke about the issue.
“She said she didn’t know anything about” the Senate report naming National American University as a predatory operator, Brennan said. “It seems unlikely that you could be oblivious to that if you're on the board of governors,” Brennan told Quorum Report. “It’s pretty clear what took place.”
In fairness to Dr. Buckingham, Brennan said the candidate assured him that she would try to address his concerns, hopefully by the middle of this week.
Buckingham’s campaign did not have a comment about this as of late Monday. A spokesman for Buckingham, Matt Langston, said on Thursday he was looking into it. If and when there is a comment, this story will be updated.
Dr. Buckingham is a fresh face in Texas politics but is known to some in the legislative community because of her service on the Sunset Commission as an appointee of then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Personal Financial Statements Buckingham filed as part of her Sunset appointment show that in 2014 and 2015, she held more than 10,000 shares of stock in National American University and was on the Board of Governors – the for-profit school’s equivalent to a Board of Regents – and was compensated to the tune of $25,000 or more in each of those years. In her 2016 statement, Buckingham reported that she is still receiving the same kind of compensation from NAU but is no longer serving on the company’s board.
The venture is largely making her campaign for Senate financially possible, records show.
According to Texas Ethics Commission filings, it appears a full 72 percent of Buckingham’s political contributions or loans came from National American University stockholders and board members, which of course includes herself. That total was roughly $950,000 out of her $1.3 million in contributions or loans.

(Copyright April 25, 2016, Harvey Kronberg, www.quorumreport.com, All rights are reserved)