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Jeff Brandes files bill aimed at protecting private college students

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State Senator Jeff Brandes filed legislation Monday that would put into place a series of protections for students enrolled in private Florida colleges, vocational schools or any other private post-secondary institution.

The bill aims to address small private pop-up colleges that notoriously charge high fees on top of a relatively small general tuition leading students to rack up a mountain of student loan debt.

Examples of such schools are the big ones like University of Phoenix or Kaiser University, but those aren’t the ones typically found to be the bad actors.

Instead they are much smaller startups that have a tendency to fail.

Senate Bill 800 aims to address those problems by requiring schools to create a “student protection fund” that safeguards students financially in the event that a school improperly closes prior to student completion or training.

Currently only non-degreed institutions are required to pay a student protection fee.

The bill would also require private schools to disclose all fees and costs to students association with completion of a program before the student is enrolled so students and families know the financial obligation before making a commitment and can weigh that cost against future earning potential.

In addition, the bill would also require schools to post a $100,000 surety bond, a cash deposit escrow account or “obtain an irrevocable letter of credit” prior to opening a new school.

Further protections for students include student retention and completion management plans that would increase a student’s likelihood of success in a given program.

Under the bill students would also be guaranteed notification of licensing application deficiencies within 30-days rather than the current required time frame of 60-days. The time period change would be geared to ensuring “only high quality operators are approved” at private post-secondary schools.

The bill also supports Florida’s Commission for Independent Education convened to ensure non-public post-secondary institutions produce a “seamless educational system” and to provide students “consumer protection, program improvement, institutional policies and administration, data management and the licensure of independent schools.

The current CIE includes representatives from public colleges and public school districts as well as some from religiously exempt organizations that are not licensed under the CIE. The bill would remove those members from the board and replace them with representatives from public districts and colleges.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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