More oversight for poor performing for-profits

The News TribuneJuly 29, 2013 

Given the pathetic record of so many for-profit colleges, one might think that members of Congress would agree that the industry needs more oversight – especially since those schools eat up about one-fifth of the available federal student aid.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Instead, some members of Congress – who perhaps only coincidentally also get hefty donations from for-profit colleges – are actively fighting efforts to improve oversight and accountability. They want to keep it easy for these schools to continue raking in the big bucks – more than $30 billion in taxpayer dollars every year – while turning out so few job-ready graduates.

Alarmed by reports that for-profit schools educate only 10 percent of college students yet account for almost half of student loan defaults, the Obama administration has tried to implement rules that would cut federal aid to low-performing schools, be they for-profit or not.

Legislation pushed by U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Ky. – chairman of the House Education Committee – would prevent that. It would also block federal efforts requiring career-colleges to disclose graduation rates and median student debt.

Kline has accepted major contributions from for-profit colleges, including ones that appear on a list of “red-flag colleges” – schools whose loan default rates are higher than their graduation rates.

For-profit college officials counter that their schools enroll a high percentage of low-income and “at-risk” students, who are less likely to succeed than, say, the middle- and upper-income students at private and state institutions.

There is some truth in that. But many of the for-profit schools blatantly misrepresent their programs’ success in preparing students for the career paths they’ve chosen, preying on low-income applicants’ unrealistic aspirations. And many students have reported being targeted with aggressive sales tactics by “admissions officers” more interested in applicants’ federal grants than their school success.

This is not true of all trade schools, or even all for-profit schools. But it’s true enough of many of them that increasing oversight and requiring more accountability makes sense.

To do otherwise is just throwing away even more billions of taxpayer dollars.

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