January 23, 2018

Report: States Flunk Test of Curbing For-Profit College Abuses

Report: States Flunk Test of Curbing For-Profit College Abuses

With Trump Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos starkly abandoning protections for students from predatory for-profit colleges, there is a real danger that bad actors in the industry will be able to once again accelerate their sleazy practices and ruin the lives of another generation of Americans. Can anyone fill the vacuum and protect against deceptive marketing and recruiting, shoddy instruction, and a mounting student debt crisis?

In recent years, we’ve seen numerous state attorneys general, Democrats and Republicans, pursue lawsuits that have curbed predatory behavior and driven some crooked operators out of business. But if you think that the states, in terms of establishing rules and structures to contain bad practices by colleges, are doing a good job, a new report says: think again.

The report, Failing U, from my colleagues at the Children’s Advocacy Institute (CAI) at the University of San Diego School of Law, gives 43 of the 50 states a grade of F, and six others a grade of D, on protecting students from predatory schools. CAI gives California the only decent grade, a B.

The grades measure the degree to which state laws, for example: provide for a publicly accountable oversight body that can issue rules, launch investigations, and impose penalties; require inspections of for-profit campuses; require schools to disclose performance measures to students; prohibit deceptive advertising and recruiting practices; and provide a complaint process and other relief for victimized students.

“After seeing the demise of several large for-profit schools, and witnessing the catastrophic impact that bad schools have on their students, we wanted to know whether state laws provide appropriate legal protections and ensure adequate oversight to deter and respond to predatory practices,” explains Melanie Delgado, Senior Staff Attorney at CAI. “Unfortunately, we found that most states do not engage in appropriate regulation or oversight to protect against the harm that these schools can inflict.”

There are many conscientious and talented people working in the various state offices overseeing higher education; I can tell you that confidently because I speak with them on a regular basis. But often they are denied the tools they need to effectively contain bad practices — often denied because of the corruption of their state governments by wealthy for-profit colleges. The industry’s lobbyists block reforms and impose structures that allow representatives of bad schools to sit on the very oversight bodies that monitor the schools, and state politicians who get their campaign contributions are often happy to oblige. That’s why the new CAI report is an important sounding of the alarm — and a blueprint for positive change.

Ex-congressman Steve Gunderson, the Newt Gingrich pal who runs the discredited national lobbying group for for-profit colleges, CECU, tells the Washington Post that the CAI report is “virtually useless in any meaningful policy discussion.” He adds, “Instead of calling for more regulations that impede the delivery of access and opportunity to students, policymakers should focus on modernization and reduction of unnecessary regulations in order to better serve students.” Gunderson cynically ignores the overwhelming evidence that in the previous decade, after the Bush administration and states substantially relaxed regulations governing for-profit colleges, bad actors engaged in a wide range of abuses, producing record profits for companies in the industry — many of which get more than 80 percent, sometimes more than 90 percent, of their revenue from taxpayers — but horrible educational outcomes and overwhelming debt for hundreds of thousands of students: veterans, single moms, and others trying to build better lives.