GAO Report Blames For-Profit Colleges, Not Students, for Shortcomings
For-profit colleges have long tried to avoid being held accountable for failing to adequately train students by claiming that they take on “high-risk” enrollees who have few other opportunities for higher education.
But a new report [PDF] by the Government Accountability Office, based on data collected by Harvard researchers, says that excuse doesn’t hold water: For-profit colleges have lower success rates than their public and nonprofit counterparts even when controlling for student “risk” factors like socioeconomic status.
For-profit colleges scored better than public and nonprofit on just one of nine metrics used to evaluate educational success—the rate of certificate graduation—and fared about the same on two more, while doing worse on six, including unemployment, debt, and loan default rates.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called the report “damning” and castigated for-profit schools for placing the fault on students, saying “the blame lies with for-profit schools.” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has led some efforts to scrutinize practices at for-profits, echoed Durbin’s condemnation, saying “the problem is not the students, but the schools.”
Campus Progress has reported extensively on abuses in the for-profit industry, many of which highlight the schools’ responsibility when students fail to succeed. Some key players among for-profit colleges still believe they can adequately police themselves, despite overwhelming evidence that governmental oversight is the right approach.
A similar study conducted by Harvard economists was similarly unflattering to for-profit institutions, though one of the authors, David Deming, cautioned that there’s not yet enough data to reach definitive conclusions.
The Harvard study asks whether for-profit colleges are “nimble critters or agile predators,” praising their versatility and ability to adapt to the demands of the job market. But it also raises serious concerns about the comparatively low employment rates and high debt levels among students at for-profit institutions.
After a decade-long boom in business, for-profit colleges have come increased scrutiny by elected officials and student advocates.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that assessing whether for-profit schools are adequately preparing students for employment is one of the guiding principles of the Obama administration’s higher education policy, while Harkin’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee recently launched an investigation into the for-profit industry that found that an increasing share of federal education funds are being channeled to for-profit schools despite poor student outcomes.
Alyssa Battistoni is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @alybatt.
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