For-Profit Schools Discuss How to Regulate Themselves

It's their latest effort to weaken a proposed federal crackdown.

By Julianne Hing Feb 14, 2011

Last week, dozens of presidents from for-profit school corporations convened a hush hush, closed-door meeting in New York to discuss what might be done about impending for-profit schools regulation aimed at reining in the industry, The Chronicle of Higher Ed reported. 

Executives from all the companies whose ads you see in subway stations and on daytime television and even in between songs on your Pandora stations were there: the University of Phoenix, Heald College, DeVry University, Kaplan University, American InterContinental University, Argosy University and Capella University.

They gathered to discuss how they might be able to regulate their own industry by making themselves "more transparent" with the public, and gaining a hold of their public messaging, The Chronicle reported. The for-profit schools executives also discussed what they called the Department of Education’s "newly aggressive regulation of higher education’s policies and practices," The Chronicle reported. They’re referring to the new regulations that were unveiled last year by the Department of Education that would force for-profit schools to publish their graduation and student debt data before students enroll. The rules would also curb the practice of paying for-profit school admissions representatives the equivalent of a commission for every student they recruit.

And folks are still waiting for the most controversial "gainful employment" rule that would bar for-profit schools from accessing federal student aid and Pell Grants if they send students off with debt they are unable to pay.

The figures from for-profit schools are known for their ability to scandalize. Nine percent graduation rates for students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs, for instance. For-profit schools receive a quarter of the country’s Pell grants, which are designated for low-income students. But for-profit students account for 43 percent of those who eventually default on their loans. 

The for-profit schools’ PR strategy in recent months has been to spread the blame. Look at the community colleges’ poor graduation rates! (But then be sure to look again at some context around those numbers.)

And then they’ve got the legal strategy. Last month an association representing major players in the for-profit industry sued to force the Department of Education to withdraw the new regulations. And alongside all these other efforts, for-profit schools have never let up their intense lobbying of congressional leaders to one by one pull all of the teeth from the regulations when they’re finalized.

Their assault may well prove successful, but not before Sen. Tom Harkin gets in a few more words on the matter. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair took the the Senate floor last week to make another appeal for strict, robust regulations of an billion-dollar industry that runs off with taxpayer dollars while at the same time preying on low-income students and students of color. The senator has made investigating and regulating the industry a personal crusade, and is holding another hearing on the matter later this month.