For-profits hit community colleges

On the eve of the White House summit lauding community colleges, the Coalition for Educational Success, an advocacy group for several for-profit colleges, slammed community colleges for “unsavory recruitment practices” and “poorer-than-expected academic quality, course availability, class scheduling, job placement and personal attention.”

The report is another example of the for-profit sector’s aggressive campaign against the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed “gainful employment” regulations on student loans and a Senate panel’s investigation of the sector, notes Inside Higher Ed.

“Community colleges play a vital role in the American economy,” said Jean Norris, whose firm produced the report. “However, they are not the only choice.”

For one part of the report, Norton|Norris sent “secret shoppers” to meet with admissions officers at 15 community colleges and found that none would provide graduation rates, even when asked. In the report, these findings are likened to those identified by the Government Accountability Office on undercover visits to for-profit colleges, where investigators were told they didn’t have to repay loans and encouraged to lie on financial aid forms.

The firm also surveyed current for-profit college students who had been enrolled at community colleges, asking them to compare their satisfaction levels at the two different kinds of institutions. In all but one category — price — the for-profit colleges came out on top.

The report is “garbage,” responded David S. Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges.

At last week’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing questioning for-profit colleges’ student outcomes and student debt, Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) accused the committee’s chair, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), of examining the sector without looking at how it fits into the broader landscape of U.S. colleges and universities. “I agree there is clearly a problem in higher education — now you’ll notice I didn’t limit that comment to for-profit schools,” Enzi said. “It’s naïve to think these problems are limited to just the for-profit sector. We’ve been looking at this in a vacuum.”

The report concedes the student sample was biased by including only students who’d left a community college to enroll at a for-profit. Sampling students who’d gone the other way surely would produce different results.  Also, the response rate was only 10 percent.

Still, it would be interesting to replicate the “secret shopper” experiment. Do community college advisers tell students their chances of completing a degree?

Eight of 15 community colleges failed to provide information on graduates’ salaries, Norris charges.  “Of the seven that did, none provided accurate information. In fact, two schools provided significantly inflated earnings information, giving the impression that their graduates earn much more than they do.”

The Coalition also attacked community colleges’ low graduation rates.


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