Crackdown on For-Profit Colleges is Just Dumb
by Jarrett Stepman
Posted 03/18/2011 ET
Despite the general decline of American public education, there has been a recent boom in for-profit, proprietary colleges. This boom has led the Department of Education to carry out its most common function, which is enact sweeping and confusing new regulations that hurt both schools and students.
Later this year, the Education Department will impose a “gainful employment” rule on proprietary colleges around the country. The rule will essentially shut down schools that don’t provide “gainful employment,” which is measured by debt-to-income ratios or loan repayment rates. The ways that these standards are measured are both muddled and contentious. These measurements, along with the whole package of regulations, are so confusing that several members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce admitted having difficulty explaining it during a St. Patrick’s Day hearing.
The hearing also featured testimonials from a number of people who have been in, work for, or have dealt with for-profit schools. They mostly praised the effectiveness of proprietary schools in producing employable students and were distressed about the assault on these vital institutions.
The chief operating officer at Globe University—which is a proprietary school—said in her testimonial, “We simply don’t understand why the federal government would, especially at this time in our country's history, seek to implement a rule that would impact job placement in fast-growing operations.”
Not only do the proprietary schools benefit from the success of their programs, but so do many employers. Travis Jennings, who is the electrical services supervisor at Orbital Sciences, said that the schedule of many community colleges along with poor coordinating programs, has led him to increasingly seek employees from the proprietary colleges in his area.
Jennings also said of graduates from proprietary colleges, “The students understand from the beginning of their enrollment that the tuition he or she pays is compensation for contributions far beyond the classroom.” There are no career students in for-profit colleges, just students that must keep an eye on having a productive future.
The Obama administration has made it a priority to rein in proprietary schools, and the Department of Education has been more than willing to comply. It has taken up this effort because some proprietary schools have been accused of using dastardly and destructive marketing techniques to lure in hapless low-income students for profits. Profits, of course, are something to be highly suspicious of.
It is apparent that the mere fact of being a profit-making organizations has made proprietary schools a target of the Left. If poor service, sky-high tuition, and low graduation rates are a problem, then the Education Department should look at failing public state colleges and universities around the country. These institutions—as prestigious as some may be—often leave students without the skills they need to find good jobs, not to mention sky-high debt.
Proprietary colleges have been serving a niche that other schools have been unable to fill. By being both nimble and free to create programs quickly, they have met the needs of many communities around the nation. They also do this within a tight time frame. A comparable degree at a community college often takes years longer in even the best circumstances.
For many recent immigrants and citizens that don’t have a family history of attending college, the trades provide a perfect opportunity to gain access to both useful life skills and a sustainable income.
Numbers that have pointed to the relatively low immediate income of graduates from proprietary schools don’t take into consideration the relatively quick advancement that they often make. The success of the student is often dependent on factors outside of a school's ability to teach, such as dedication and a work ethic.
In an age of high unemployment, slow growth, and failing primary and secondary education, this limitation of school choice and opportunity appears to be a destructive ideological crusade.