October 22, 2021

Questions About California Community Colleges’ New Deal With For-Profit College

Questions About California Community Colleges' New Deal With For-Profit College

This week, American Public University System (APUS), whose name obscures the fact that it is a for-profit college, announced it had signed an agreement with the chancellor’s office of the California Community Colleges (CCC) system that will enable graduates of these community colleges “to seamlessly transfer to APUS as a junior – with no loss of credit.” 

The agreement is already generating some controversy in the higher education policy world.

For-profit APUS, whose stock is publicly traded, runs two online schools, which relentlessly advertise on TV and online: American Military University and American Public University. The schools have a mixed reputation. 

The 2012 comprehensive Senate HELP committee investigation into for-profit colleges noted that the schools’ tuition prices were lower than what many for-profits charged and that their “performance—measured by student withdrawal and default rates—is better than many of the companies examined.”

But today the school’s graduation rate is only around 19 percent.

In 2018, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, after investigating APUS,  announced a settlement with the company over allegations that AMU violated Massachusetts law by failing to make required disclosures to prospective students about loan job placement, loan repayment, and graduation rates and “engaging in predatory enrollment tactics, including making excessive recruitment calls.” Healy charged that AMU’s “name and other visual images suggest it is part of the United States Armed Services, but the company in fact is not part of the U.S. Military and is not affiliated with it.”

APUS agreed to pay $270,000 to Healey’s office for relief to eligible AMU students and agreed to change its disclosures to prospective students.

“Online, for-profit schools that mislead veterans and military families are not welcome in Massachusetts,” said Healey at the time of the settlement with APUS.

APUS’s new agreement with the CCC raises a number of questions that I hope California lawmakers, the media, and advocates will pursue. Among them:

  1. Exactly what benefits does the arrangement provide for CCC students?  According to APUS’s press release, “Having completed an associate degree, California Community College students will only need to earn 60 additional credits to get a bachelor’s degree at APUS. Because APUS will accept up to 90 credits in transfer, these students may be able to apply an additional 30 credits to the over 220 APUS degrees and certificates beyond their associate degree.” Is that actually a more generous transfer arrangement than APUS offers other community college students?  Is it a better deal than CCC students can already get at other for-profit colleges? Or is this mostly just an advertisement for APUS schools that CCC is directing at its own students? 
  2. Will the CCC, currently run by acting chancellor Daisy Gonzales, get money or something of value for steering students to a for-profit college? Turning a publicly-funded community college system into a paid lead generator for a for-profit college would not be a good look.
  3. In 2009, California Community Colleges announced a similar deal with for-profit Kaplan University, a school with high prices and a troubling record. CCC cancelled the agreement within a year after CCC faculty and advocates for students raised concerns. At the time a man named Wade Dyke was Kaplan’s Executive Vice President. Now Mr. Dyke is the president of APUS. Did he learn from the Kaplan-CCC debacle how to get things right for students this time? Or how to protect the arrangement from being overturned by critics?
  4. What other good bachelors degree options are there for people who earn an associates degree from the CCC system?  Apparently, these students are not guaranteed admission to the California State and University of California systems, nor is there space for all of them. CCC graduates deserve a chance to get their BAs, but are there better ways for the system to guarantee affordable, quality options for these students? 

UPDATE 10-22-21 10:00 pm:  Acting Chancellor Gonzales’s office pointed me to a new statement from her that reads in part:

This agreement is one of nearly 60 that the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has entered into with transfer partners to ensure that the California community college students with Associate Degrees for Transfer who enroll in partner institutions will see their credits transfer and enter with junior standing in their major. Currently, 300 to 400 students transfer to APUS annually, and it is an important priority to ensure our students receive full credit for their courses upon transfer.

The statement suggests that what is going on here is that CCC graduates are enrolling at APUS schools anyway, so CCC should ensure they get maximum credit for their work.  That’s not how the APUS press release — “American Public University System Partners with California Community Colleges to Help More Students Obtain Affordable Bachelor’s Degrees…. Under the Memorandum of Understanding, eligible California Community College graduates… now have the flexibility to earn a relevant, high-quality bachelor’s degree online at APUS” — reads. The press release quotes CCC Acting Chancellor Daisy Gonzales as touting the value of APUS: “The California Community Colleges system is excited to offer our students the added flexibility of pursuing their bachelor’s degree from any location while attending APUS. As we continue to deal with COVID-19, our students have an additional transfer option to pursue their studies online at an institution that will help prepare them for our state and nation’s workforce demands and that is highly dedicated to student success, just like we are.”