For all his accomplishments and his illustrious career, Thomas Jefferson considered his greatest achievement to be the establishment of the University of Virginia, a publicly-funded institution with one goal: turning out educated, free-thinking citizens.

Jefferson would have been appalled and outraged at the very concept of for-profit education – and the late, unlamented Corinthian College of Fraud is the poster child for everything that perversion of civilized society represents. Founded by a group of executives for a California-based, for-profit corporate operator of vocational schools, Corinthian was founded in 1995. The company’s mission:

“…to acquire schools that were fundamentally sound and with good  reputations, but which for one reason or another were performing  below their potential” (from

Two decades, dozens of lawsuits and a federal criminal investigation later, Corinthian Colleges is now history.

According to California State Attorney General Kalama Harris, Corinthian Colleges marketing was geared toward a vulnerable demographic – essentially, people living close to the poverty line with no real prospects and virtually nothing in the way of friends, family or a social support network. Lured by promises of better opportunities, students were left with a lifetime of student debt and little in the way of job prospects.

Between 2013 and 2014, Corinthian was the target of numerous probes by state and federal investigators over falsifying records in order to stay eligible for federal student loans and grants. The U.S. Department of Education was ready to stop Corinthian’s gravy train in its tracks – when suddenly, a champion stood forth.

In 2014, Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter to the  departmnent, defending the beleaguered corporation:

“It has been brought to my attention that the U.S. Department of Education has recently placed extreme financial constraints on Corinthian Colleges, Inc. by restricting the company’s timely access to federal financial aid…while I commend the Department’s desire to protect our nation’s students from fraudulent and malicious activity by any institution of higher education…I believe the Department can and should demonstrate leniency as long as Corinthian Colleges, Inc. continues to expeditiously and earnestly cooperate by providing the documents requested.”

Rubio’s flowery language recalls a scene in the 1975 Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles, in which Slim Pickens compliments a speech made by Harvey Korman as he sits in the bath.

According to Senator Rubio’s spokesperson, his primary concern was to help Florida students from “being punished and having their educations disrupted” during the federal investigation. However, one suspects that a $5000 campaign contribution from Corinthian had more to do with it.

But wait! There’s more…

Like Ayn Rand, Marco Rubio is the offspring of parents who fled a Communist regime (Castro’s Cuba). According to Rubio biographer Manuel Roig-Franzia, “…by the time he finished his first legislative term, he had devoured Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ twice.” It should come as no surprise that Rubio’s position on economics reflect those of Rand.  One of his ideas is to allow investors to pay for students’ tuition (doesn’t that happen already indirectly with private loans?).  The graduate would provide these investors with a return based on a percent of his/her income for a certain amount of time. In Rubio’s mind, this “free market” solution would “expand choices.”

It could certainly be a windfall for investors if said student found a lucrative career and wound up paying thoe investors far more that s/he would toward a student loan. If not – well, investors can always claim the loss on their tax return. In either case, it would not work out so well for students.

Beyond this, Rubio has been vague on the subject of education and the public’s role in supporting it. However, consider his stances on other important issues – which include allowing health insurers once again to deny coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” opposition to taxes that fall primarily on the wealthiest Americans (such as the capital gains and estate tax) and limiting federal spending across the board. If these are any indication, he would just as soon turn public education over to the private sector to use as yet another profit center.

And Thom Jefferson would be spinning in his grave (not that he isn’t already).

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.