Harris Miller Resigns as President of For-Profit College Association

June 17, 2011

The head of the major association representing for-profit colleges, Harris N. Miller, has abruptly left his post.

In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities said Mr. Miller had resigned as of that day.

Privately, several sources familiar with the matter said Mr. Miller was told on Wednesday evening that the group's board had lost confidence in his ability to lead the association, whose nearly 2,000 member institutions enroll about 1.5 million students.

Arthur E. Keiser, the chairman of the board, said that characterization was not accurate but declined to discuss the circumstances, saying that it was a private matter. "There's never an opportune time to change leadership," said Mr. Keiser, who is chancellor of Keiser University. But he said he believed it was "the right time" for Mr. Miller to resign.

"Harris did a phenomenal job for us," said Mr. Keiser, noting that the association's membership was at an all-time high and it had just concluded a successful annual convention.

Mr. Miller, who held the post for just over four years, has been the public face of the growing for-profit college sector during the most tumultuous era of its history—a period that in the past 18 months has featured increasing scrutiny from Congress, tighter regulations from the Education Department, a curtailment of student-aid financing from some state houses, and more vocal public criticism from consumer advocates.

The sector has responded with intensive lobbying and a push in poltical fund raising for its Congressional allies. The association, known as Apscu, has been a key force in a lot of that effort, but other organizations, including a new group backed by several college companies called the Coalition for Educational Success—thought by some to be more nimble and effective than the larger Apscu—have also been politically influential.

'The Good Fight'

In a brief interview on Friday, Mr. Miller said he and his board had been discussing his departure for a while. "They know I'm tired," he said.

During his tenure, Mr. Miller has been at the forefront of efforts at Apscu to raise the profile of the association and its member colleges in Congress, in state legislatures, and in the news media. At times those efforts took on a combative tone, with the association regularly issuing "Apscu responds to ..." press releases about news articles or reports with criticism it sought to refute.

In January the association sued the U.S. Department of Education, challenging its right to carry out three new regulations, including one aimed at curtailing misrepresentation in student recruiting. (Other higher-education associations also oppose the other two regulations, related to distance education and the definition of the credit hour, but are doing so through political not legal means.) Apscu is now weighing whether it will also file suit to challenge the "gainful employment" regulation. Even though the final version of the regulation, released a few weeks ago, was softened, the association still contends it unfairly focuses too heavily on for-profit colleges.

Mr. Keiser said he did not expect a change in leadership would result in a change in the association's strategic direction. "We're still in a political fight," he said. The association's executive vice president, Brian Moran, will serve as temporary president until the group hires a new president and chief executive through a formal search process.

Mr. Miller, who turns 60 next week, said he did not yet know what he would do next. "We've accomplished a lot," he said. "We fought the good fight on behalf of students."