Rev. Al: Team Player on For-Profit College Regs

Do for-profit colleges actually profit by murdering their students?

Not according to Rev. Al Sharpton, who supports the for-profit education industry in its struggle to stay on the public tit.

The Obama Department of Education, under Secretary Arne Duncan, seeks to impose tighter restrictions on for-profit schools that get federal support. Specifically, as more for-profits receive accreditation by buying distressed schools and otherwise passing muster with America's shadowy half dozen or so accrediting organizations, Duncan wants to tie federal grants, guarantees and tax incentives to the workplace performance of graduates.

As former Reason intern Mike Riggs explains in the Daily Caller, Sharpton makes a strong case that singling out the for-profits in this way hurts an industry that provides an in-demand service to poor people:

Sharpton has argued that for-profit schools are integral to raising low-income and minority Americans out of poverty. Both he and [one-time Clinton Administration staffer Lanny] Davis oppose the scope and focus of the gainful employment regulations proposed by the Department of Education and Secretary Arne Duncan. The regulations would prohibit schools with high drop-out and student-loan default rates from accepting federal student aid.

The term “gainful employment” was coined to reflect the Education Department’s belief that career colleges like Kaplan, University of Phoenix, and DeVry habitually engage in deceptive marketing to low-income students by promising them unrealistic job prospects and not doing enough to keep them enrolled. Opponents of the regulations, like Davis and many leaders in the African American and Hispanic communities, believe that the high default and drop-out rates, as well as the problems many career college graduates face in finding decent-paying jobs, are obstacles that low-income Americans face regardless of the tax status of the institution they attend.

Sharpton's support for the for-profit education industry makes him an ally of Lanny Davis, who now shakes the trees in D.C. on behalf of the industry. But as Inside Higher Ed reports, Sharpton dialed back his stentorian delivery slightly after Davis asked for permission to use his likeness and a quotation in an ad:

"We want to run this ad in next Monday’s Washington Post – the day of a meeting with Secretary Duncan and a dozen or more members of Congress, organized by Rep. [Alcee] Hastings," Davis wrote.

"I CANNOT approve this quote or my name/likeness in this ad," Sharpton replied via his Blackberry. "Though I agree that there is a need for the services the schools provide, especially in communities of color, we should weed out the abusers of this service.

"To attack the Department rather than engage them is a bad strategy in my opinion. I think the President and Sec Duncan are not the enemies here. In fact I think they have done more for closing the education achievement gap than they have been given credit. I would like to seek a common ground to protect the services minority students need but not defend those who have manipulated those needs for ONLY personal gain," Sharpton added. "Let's talk."

If you're only going to click on one of those links, make it the Daily Caller story, which gathers some wool on why the Department of Ed leaked the emails to InsideHigherEd. I figure all this stuff is just range-finding. When the regs get applied in hot blood, they will 1) not be unduly restrictive of any of Davis’ paying clients; 2) create barriers to entry to new competitors; and 3) thanks to 1 and 2, build a more vertically integrated industry that will have better access to public support regardless of customer satisfaction.

As for the surface intent of the regulations, I have no problem with them. To the extent the federal government has authority to promote college attendance (I don't think it does, but the majority of Americans and all three branches of government believe otherwise), then it has a legitimate interest in verifying the market performance of companies that receive its largesse. I concur with Inisde Higher Ed commenter "Adjunct George" that Duncan should extend this scrutiny to the public and private non-profit schools -- which are also selling a shady product at an inflated price. But given the relatively poor performance of the for-profits in terms of graduate earnings, student debt load and default rates, it's hard to make a compelling case that singling them out for federal abuse is unfair.

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  • ||

    I find it completely senseless to talk about the performance of for-profits without also talking about the performance of non-profits, which are also on the federal teat.

    If we're going to have standards for access to the teat, let's apply them to everyone who wants to lock on. I disagree with the conclusion above, that for-profits can and should be singled out. If anything, the fact that the non-profits get a tax break should put them at the front of the line for regulation, not the back.

    If we're going to discuss the need for these standards, let's talk about performance across the board.

  • ||

    The problem (politically) is that an across the board look would also nail community colleges, HBCUs, and colleges that in general serve populations coming from worse backgrounds. The public versions of these colleges are praised for serving the disadvantaged, and their worse numbers are excused because of their population served. The private ones, because of those evil "p" words, get no such allowance.

  • Yea Baby||

    It's worse than you think. If these rules are applied to both for-profit trade schools and traditional liberal arts colleges guess which group will do worse? Polictially, we can't stop government subsidies for middle & upper class families to send their kids to finishing schools where they study lots of self-important material but develop no job skills.

  • Growlygus||

    Polictially, we can't stop government subsidies for middle & upper class families to send their kids to finishing schools where they study lots of self-important material but develop no job skills.

    Why not? Having a child attend a 4-year university is just a fad and way too expensive for middle class parents, even with financial support from the government. Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) has been tracking the higher education bubble for some time. It'll pop, I thinks.

  • Socrates||

    I took no state monies.

  • Wind Rider||

    Oh, yeah? Who paid for the hemlock, pal?

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    If anything, the fact that the non-profits get a tax break should put them at the front of the line for regulation, not the back.

    Agreed, but as I said, it's "hard to make a compelling case" because the figures on student debt and default are much higher than they are in any other sector. It's true that in community college the costs and the failures are just getting pushed elsewhere, but normal people don't look at the hidden waste; they look at the (wasted?) student.

    My position is in favor of anything that keeps the government from spending any additional dollar of the trillions of dollars it already doesn't have. But I'm sure that position will turn out to be wrong too. As long as you have all this public debt going to support an inflated asset, al these spending/regulatory decisions are just the fruit of the poisoned bush that's worth two peas in a rug.

  • ||

    If the government stopped guaranteeing student loans, the schools might make a more serious effort to ensure their curricula were designed to provide their students with marketable skills.

    But what do I know? I don't even have a degree in Education.

  • ||

    But given the relatively poor performance of the for-profits in terms of graduate earnings, student debt load and default rates, it's hard to make a compelling case that singling them out for federal abuse is unfair.

    To summarize my following argument: Marginal students are marginal.

    The problem is that you have to look at the population served. The same numbers that show the for-profits doing poorly also show historically black colleges and universities, community colleges, and lower ranking schools in general doing poorly.

    It turns out that college is a better deal for good students and people who had good high school educations than for people who were not good students in high school or went to bad schools.

    For-profit universities tend to serve the latter group. In many countries, private but non-profit universities are also more likely to serve the latter group, but here in the US they have top prestige.

    Now, you can use all of this to say that it's a waste of time to send so many people to college and we should be cutting back, that's a reasonable and consistent argument.

    When framed in this light, Sharpton's opposition is entirely understandable.

  • Wind Rider||

    I find it easier to understand Sharpton's (initial) reluctance in light of the others not making it clearer to Al what his cut in all this was.

  • ||

    When did going to college become synonymous with vocational training?

    With an emphasis on 'getting a good paying job' in both for- and not-for-profit education, you attract an entire group of people who are not served well by attending college...people who might be more inclined to learn a trade or start a business after high school.

    Instead they pursue degrees that have little economic value, defer 4 or more productive years and spend (someone's) dollars chasing a promise that can't be delivered...no more 'educated' for work than when they entered.

  • Bee Tagger||

    This

  • ||

    Yes. I always hate it when college and university recruiters put out stuff about how much a college education is worth in terms of financial returns. Also when chambers of commerce and other business leaders assume that colleges exist for the purpose of turning out ready-made employees. In this climate, it's no wonder parents act as if (and students accept the proposition that) a college degree is a prerequisite for an acceptable job.

    Often my literature and linguistics students would object: "I'm never going to use this on the job!"

    And I would retort, "Don't you remember this is the College of Arts and Sciences? It's our *job* to study useless shit!"

  • ||

    You have to admit that it's worked out pretty well for the colleges, enabling them to be credentialing gatekeepers. So we understand why they do it, even though it's bad.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Ken Tompkins, who taught a great Chaucer class at Stockton State College in N.J., did a final-day lecture showing how much the class had done for you in the job market just by helping you assess information and write it up in a readable way. And he was right. That's a good skill to have in any organization.

  • Quiet Desperation||

    For every moment Al Sharpton is not in jail, the terrorists win.

  • Colin||

    Shouldn't it be the "public teat"?

  • ph||

    If you're only going to click on one of those links, make it the Daily Caller story, which gathers some wool on why the Department of Ed leaked the emails to InsideHigherEd.

    Racist!

  • The Devil Inchoate||

    "An educated conusmer is our best customer." Educate - do not regulate!

  • JB||

    For-profits offer more flexibilty than traditional schools, which should be factored in when thinking about cost and benefits. If a working adult has to quit or scale back hours from a job to go to traditional school (Western Civ: M-W-F, 9-9:30 am) or can keep working and attend a for-profit (Western Civ: 10 pm, or anytime after the kids are in bed), should't that be factored into the discussion?

    If we want to bitch about government student loans, etc, let's do it. But let's not think that restraining consumer choice is helping anyone.Is it ever good to limit the career advancement options of anyone? Single-working parent who wants to get a degree: quit your job, go to Big State U, take the time to find yourself, maybe go to a poetry slam at the student union, it's just that simple.

    And I love the bit about government having the right to "verify market performance". You know what verifies market performance? The market! Obviously a lot of folks feel for-profits are worth the time, trouble and associated debt-load, or else they wouldn't go. Shit, I would have paid the higher tuition to not have had to sit in class with backward-hat-wearing-frat-boys, but I didn't have the choice.

  • ||

    "To the extent the federal government has authority to promote college attendance, then it has a legitimate interest in verifying the market performance of companies that receive its largesse."

    Do you mean that the students should be tested for how much they learned, or that the college should be penalized because its students....already low income....don't excel as much as people on the traditional college track? You don't seem to know exactly what product colleges offer, or how to measure them, or even what factors lead to success.

    Listen, I'm sorry Reverend Al is on your side on this one. That's no reason to stretch and strain.

  • ||

    The non-profits are just pissed because they missed the online education boat. Since they can't defend the fact that increases to their cost of tuition have outstripped that of the fucking health care sector, and that aggregate student loan debt is greater than credit card debt in the US, they've decided to fight online education/educators and defend their bubble by coming after the innovators. This has little or nothing to do with what kind of schools serve which kind of community or student loan default rates within certain demos. The whole debate is analogous to the privates vs. the land grant universities from back in the day. When the land grant universities emerged the privates fought them and looked down on them too, just like the brick and mortars are doing to the "for profits." This is a class thing, an anti-innovation thing. We have a group of soon to be extinct defenders of a broken business model who claim that costs are high because teaching is artisinal (not joking) and impervious to cost efficiencies achieved via scaling through technology, bitching and moaning because they don't like economic reality. Professors who look down on profs who teach at "for profits" are no different from a bank clerk bitching about ATM's and online banking in the mid 90's. Online education can be as good as traditional models, and is typically far, far cheaper. Once the good students start showing up - and trust me they will as brick and mortar costs keep shooting through the roof - the game will be over. Higher Education is in a bubble, just like the real estate industry was. The sooner it pops the better.

  • 8||

    ^this. what professor asshole said. online education also puts the diversity pimps out of business as there's no need to limit class size. and costs. costs will come down as more move to the online model.

  • pmains||

    One of the initiatives here at [employer redacted] is providing remedial training to products of the public schools who somehow have failed to acquire basic reading and math skills. Once you can pass the entrance exam, then you can begin taking real classes (usually job-oriented) and getting college credit.

    The problem, of course, is that we are a testament to the failure of government. This confuses and enrages Obama and his slow-witted supporters. Rather than reflect upon their own short-comings, they lash out at us.

  • ||

    John Thacker: I am one of these "marginal private college graduates" that you speak of. I didn't do well in high school because I was seriously bored and not challenged at all. In college however, I was. I have a BSBA (2005) and a MBA (2010) from the same private institution and am making 95K a year; how is that for gainful employment? As a single parent who works full time, my Alma Mater was the best choice for me. It WAS my choice and I was responsible for my performance (4.0 on the MBA by the way). I take offense in you calling me and my classmates "marginal", everyone I met along my journey was quite exceptional. Education should be seen as an opportunity to build a bright and better future for anyone who chooses it regardless of their economic background. Everyone has the power to become successful inside of them and it is marginal morons who try to hold them back with their bias and unfair views of equality. If the private colleges are held to this standard then so too should the public schools. I wonder what the starting salary is for a graduate of the Masters of Folklore from Berkley University is?

  • The Devil Inchoate||

    There is a "Reply to this" link that you can use to direct your response to the appropriate party.

  • ||

    I’ve had pretty good luck working with peers and later supervised workers that were Devry graduates. I don’t work for them anymore, but I used to work for an electronics firm that hired a good number of technicians and field engineers for installation, operation and maintenance of equipment that was installed on Navy ships in shipyards and on operational units. This company hired techs from two sources: ex-military and Devry almost exclusively. As ex- USN submarine force, I can and do look down on everyone, but I found the guys hired from Devry technically competent and no bigger pusses than the ex-USAF guys. At least through the 80s & 90s, Devry’s electronics tech program was a path towards a good job. With OT and at-sea time, the salary could be excellent.

  • Douglas Fletcher||

    ...Duncan wants to tie federal grants, guarantees and tax incentives to the workplace performance of graduates.

    I'd be interested to see the reaction to that approach if it included public colleges. For an informed opinion I think I'll ask one of my local barristas.

  • ||

    The providers in this industry have not been telling the truth. They say that their default rates are high and their retention percentages are low because of who they serve. What they fail to say, however, is that part of their sales pitch to prospective students is that they provide extra services through their Education, Career Development, and Student Services departments that will help them with the problems they may have. These departments, prospective students are told, will help them with tutoring, finding child care, transportation, jobs, money to assist with bills, and low income housing. What they don't tell the prospective student is that these departments are so poorly funded, and under-maned until they can barely provide the day to day services in required by their regulatory and accrediting bodies. The government needs to address them from this vantage point and then see what other lies they will tell.

  • han||

    I figure all this stuff is just range-finding.

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