For-profit colleges long ago seemed to have adopted a business model whereby they weather allegations of fraud and promises of reform. Public reform movements in the 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s were followed by new regulations and then by quiet industry-led deregulation.

To combat the proposed Obama reforms, the industry spent $8 million last year in a lobbying blitz that continues this spring. The effort appears to be bearing fruit, as more than 100 Democratic and Republican lawmakers announced last week they would seek to dilute the proposed regulations.

In California, meanwhile, new rule tweaks and lawsuits are a trifle when viewed in light of recent deregulation. During the late 2000s, just as Foist and his fellow students seemed to be making ground in their class-action lawsuit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger oversaw the elimination of laws that had once punished schools that failed to graduate at least 60 percent of their students and place 70 percent of students in jobs they were trained for. Just as important: Schwarzenegger-era changes weakened students' right to sue schools that had defrauded them.

"There are no more thresholds," says Betsy Imholtz, director of special projects at the Consumers Union. "Now, if only 10 percent of the students graduate, and only five percent of them get jobs, [the schools] can still be operating in the state of California." Additionally, under the Schwarzenegger-era laws, "students will have an extremely hard time getting attorneys to take a case for them."

Mark Spencer, spokesman for the California Culinary Academy, confirms that the new regulatory regime benefits his employer. In an e-mail, he writes that CCA settled with Foist and other students not because the company was guilty of deception, but because the lawsuit was "extraordinarily expensive to litigate and involved claims asserted under a set of laws that have since been repealed by the state legislature because they were confusing, inconsistent, not followed by regulations, and unduly punitive." Spencer added that the academy's decision comes from a desire "to put this chapter behind us and operate under a new set of state laws which we hope will provide more clarity and balance."

Clarity and balance? When a corporation appreciates regulations with the terminology of an oenophile, buyer beware.

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