Attack on For-Profit Colleges Gets Ugly

Attack on For-Profit Colleges Gets Ugly
AP Photo/J Pat Carter, File

Some politicians in Washington are waging a concerted and deceitful effort to make it difficult for private, for-profit and non-profit colleges to exist. Colleges and universities that offer career-specific degrees are a top priority for their detractors, even though these institutions meet the unique needs of non-traditional students, returning veterans, and single moms.

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A handful of partisan Democrats will not end their war against for-profit and non-profit schools which offer students and their families an alternative to a traditional four-year college or university. We know that students learn differently and have a variety of different professional goals, therefore, it’s important for students to exercise their choice in post-high school education options.

For the past two years, the Department of Education, under a new regime, has been reevaluating the current rules and regulations governing for-profit and nonprofit colleges. As a result, some in the Senate and House of Representatives are employing different tactics in their battle against higher education. Specifically, some Democrat members, staff, and activists have resorted to pressuring officials working at the Department of Veterans Affairs – the agency which funds veteran GI Bill education - to cut off money to schools they dislike. These critics of for-profit colleges say the schools are too expensive and often leave students with high student loan debt. Many detractors also claim for-profit colleges often have low graduation rates.   

Their attacks are aided by outside activist groups, including Veterans Education Success (VES), which heavily criticizes private, for-profit education. The VES website clearly advocates the support of state colleges and public schools, while condemning most for-profit schools as scams. 

But what college education sector is actually leaving students underserved? While Members of Congress and their activist partners attack private, for-profit and non-profit universities, Politico recently released a report noting how many traditional schools are missing the mark in educating students for a modern-day workforce. The working group produced, Ladders to Success: Rethinking education and skills training for tomorrow’s workforce, and was comprised of leaders in government, higher education, and business. They explored ways to improve higher education to better fit the needs of the modern workforce and today’s students. Rather than supporting the one-size-fits-all approach to education, the report says, “the system needs to expand its concept of who is a student and what is a university.”

According to the report, one participant said, “We don’t place people into jobs. We create citizens of the world. This sounds ideal, but that is part of the problem.” People get hired for skills, not degrees, and “many students and workers don’t respond well to traditional school.” This is particularly true for nontraditional students and midcareer professionals.

The report also mentions recommendations for employers, including communicating what skills and jobs are needed. Most importantly, more on-the-job training programs and apprenticeships. Again, if employers want to hire individuals to compete in a modern workforce, the desired skills and talents need to be clear. For nontraditional students, returning veterans, and individuals with families, a focused educational plan with well-paying jobs upon graduation is attractive.

Other recommendations include, “Add flexibility to federal student aid programs.” Although not a loan program, this should include the GI Bill. Our veterans should be able to decide where they want to go to school. The report also maintains that we should, “Consider new ways to promote and pay for lifelong learning.” The GI Bill is a great way for veterans to continue to build upon the skills they obtained while serving our nation.

What is the real motivation behind much of the criticism aimed at for-profit education? It is all about competition for student enrollment. The California Community Colleges system for example knows its enrollment is declining and is desperately trying to create an online footprint robust enough to compete with many for-profit, career-oriented schools. A new project with a $120 million-dollar budget is supposed to begin offering more online learning by next year.

Veterans and other nontraditional students deserve the opportunity to choose the best fit for their educational and professional needs. GI Bill funding is essential for veterans to attend the college of their choice. Unfortunately, a handful of Democrats are working to limit the educational choices veterans can make while transitioning from military to civilian life.

Attacks on for-profit colleges and universities jeopardize education choice and limit the programs and college degrees available to our nation’s heroes. Politicians, activists, and operatives should stop bullying non-partisan government workers into supporting their political agendas. The VA, the IRS, and other government agencies should not be used as tools for ideological warfare against quality schools that offer educational choice for a wide spectrum of students.


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