“I can assure you that this committee will be exploring legislative changes.” That statement came from Sen. Tom Harkin (IA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee at the end of the third hearing on for-profit colleges that took place this morning.

Today’s hearing had elements of theater and the most sharply-divided partisan politics to date.  Senators Enzi, McCain, and Burr each made the point that the Democrats were being unfair in singling out the for-profit institutions.  Senator Enzi, the ranking minority member on the Committee, followed up with a statement released on the HELP webpage.  Enzi said. “It is naïve to think that these problems are limited to just the for-profit sector.”

Other highlights from the hearings:

Photo of Senator Harkin
Senator Harkin (IA) – Chair, Senate HELP Committee
  • Senator Enzi made a point about how “servant leadership” is helpful in driving free and open markets.  In making the point, he came dangerously close to saying “greed is good,” but backed off just in time.
  • Danielle Johnson from Iowa testified about how she felt she was lied to by representatives of Kaplan University.
  • Arnold Mitchem, President, Council for Opportunity in Education, provided testimony about the trouble that low income or first-generation students have in navigating higher education and the for-profit sector.  Finances in higher education is confusing and accreditation is confusing.  Those without college experience do not know the right questions to ask.  They think they are dealing with counselors and not sales people.
  • Kathleen Bittel is (or now was?) a career counselor for Educational Management Corporation, which operates The Arts Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College, and South University.  She was one of nine career counselors serving three of those four colleges.  She said her job was not about helping student and was focused on obtaining proof that 85.9% of their students were employed in skill-related employment with more than$30,000 in annual salary.
  • Lauren Asher , President, The Institute for College Access and Success, spoke to her organization’s support of “gainful employment” legislation.  She also was articulate in addressing the shortcomings of using the current graduation rates collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Senator Richard Burr (NC) apparently missed the memo to Republicans to boycott the hearing.  Senators Enzi and McCain made brief appearances long enough to read statements and immediately exited the hearing room. Senator Burr said that he felt that the purpose of the hearing was to eliminate for-profit institutions and thought that is was unfair to tell returning soldiers where they could spend their GI Bill funds.
  • Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) asked if “student loans should be extended to programs that are not accredited.”  Ms. Asher gave a polite lesson on the difference between accrediting institution and accrediting program.
  • Ms. Asher was also a champion of reviewing the financial incentives for colleges.  “We need to shift incentives for colleges to focus on outcomes for students.”

Senator Harkin closed the event by saying that there will be one more hearing in December and that legislation will follow next year.  Given the administration’s recent announcement of a delay in “gainful employment” regulations, the heightened partisan nature of this discussion, and the upcoming elections, it will be interesting to see how what is proposed and who is affected will change.

3 replies on “For-Profit Hearing: Legislation Might Include All Colleges & Greed is Good”

More financial aid needs to be provided for potential and current students. The Obama administration served many students well by taking loans back under the federal government. I know students who received private loans (as high as 9%) for college, which can not be easily consolidated. I think for some colleges it is “business as usual”, and “buyer beware”.

A friend of mine graduated from one for-profit “university” with no contact from instructors, except the grading e-mails.

On another note. It is also interesting to me after talking to three people from three for-profit colleges I was amazed to learn that everyone is a “professor”—no tenure, no scholarship, no faculty governance, nothing. How can those who do not produce knowledge have much to impart except what is “canned”?

Thanks Russ for this excellent review and update on the proceedings.

The quality and reputation of public institutions varies widely, and one can expect the same from the for-profits, all for-profits cannot be judged by looking at only one.

The issues being discussed throughout this for-profit review, such as low retention and graduation rates, are issues that plague higher education as a whole right now. I do not disagree that they are valid discussions, but they are discussions for all types of higher education. This was demonstrated in a recent article in the Washington Monthly listing the top public colleges with the worst graduation rate, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2010/dropout_factories.php. It doesn’t matter if we are public or for-profit, community college or university, we should be joining together to determine why a large segment of our students needs are not met and how we can improve our educational system to better meet the needs of all students.

I am proud to say I worked hard to receive my advanced degrees from a for-profit and had wonderful, knowledgeable instructors. In addition, after spending years working in traditional public education as both faculty and administrator, I am proud to be an adjunct instructor for a for-profit institution that provides more resources and support to its students and faculty than I’ve ever seen before.

Tenure doesn’t produce knowledge. Knowledge is gained through a combination of education and experience in a field. Most of these faculty don’t only have the graduate degrees, but years of real-life experience in their field of study and the ability to apply the theory and textbook reading to their field and the student’s future.

You can say and believe what you will about the faculty at for-profits, but this senate work is not about the faculty. It is about about the administrative side of the house looking for money everywhere without any ethical thought. They have instructed staff to walk the line between true and false in recruiting, financial aid and advising, and they draw the line with a very fine-tipped pen. The recruitment techniques are near harassment in style, and they prey upon those who really don’t “know.”

The for-profits- brick and mortar and online- are problems, in my mind, because they sell a product: education. It is just too difficult for me to wrap my head around the many conflicts of interest between education and business, student and customer, retention and profit margin.

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