National Journal’s Education Experts discuss regulating for-profit higher education. One proposed regulation will ban incentive pay based on how many students a recruiter signs up. Another — held back for further consideration — would cut federal aid to for-profits whose graduates pay more than 8 percent of their salary to service their student-loan debt. The industry is fighting this one very hard.
Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense wonders why regulators are going after the “expensive sham degree from Strip Mall U” and ignoring “an equally useless and perhaps even more costly credential” from a traditional institution.
Drop in at any third-rate state school and I’m sure you’ll find dozens of kids who won’t find work in their fields after paying a pretty penny for the privilege of a few nice buildings, a little green grass, and a better chance of getting laid on the weekend. Out of the last class of pre-service teachers with whom I worked, maybe one or two might have been good enough to get a job and keep it. Not their fault. Or mine. The university sucked them in and immediately struck up the band with “Pomp and Circumstance,” even when it was obvious that many were not up to the task. Kids who can barely speak and write in complete sentences are rushed through their programs before their financial aid runs out — and profs who think they ought not be passed along are discouraged from giving out failing grades, even when their students fail to master crucial material or even to complete minimal amounts of work.
Once the Department implements the “gainful employment” policy, why limit it to for-profits? As the New York Times recently reported, some private universities think nothing of letting students borrow $100,000 for a bachelor’s degree with limited value in the job market. While the for-profit share of public subsidies is growing, the vast majority of taxpayer support for higher education continues to flow to traditional public and non-profit institutions. Many of them are doing a poor job and have loan default problems of their own. I hope the Department’s actions are a first step toward higher standards for all public support of higher education, for-profit and otherwise.
I agree. But taking a hard look at what college students get out of their degrees — or a few semesters in college with no degree — will be very painful. Should federal aid support poorly prepared students who are unlikely to earn a useful credential? Should grants and loans go to students with academic interests unlikely to qualify them for a job? What about those third-rate schools turning out semi-skilled graduates?