As more and more problems with for-profit schools come to light, the states have joined the effort to increase oversight and hold schools accountable. A number of state Attorney General offices joined the federal Department of Justice in a whistleblower lawsuit against Education Management Corp. (EDMC), one of the largest for-profit school chains. The suit alleges that the company illegally paid recruiters based on the number of students they enrolled.
Many states are also considering legislation to improve consumer protections. Some states, including Illinois and California, are trying to set performance standards for state student assistance grants.
The Massachusetts legislature held a hearing last week to consider a number of bills to improve oversight in the state. NCLC presented testimony at the hearing as did a number of our clients and other students who have suffered harm from abusive for-profit school practices.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of disproportionately high default rates and other problems in the for-profit sector, industry leaders continue to deny responsibility. In a public radio program this week on WBUR in Boston, the for-profit industry trade association President Harris Miller blamed everyone but his own industry, claiming that the problems in the for-profit sector are no worse than in many other education sectors. Mr. Harris restated the “demographic determinism” argument that completion rates are low and default rates are high in the for-profit sector because they serve low-income and minority students. The basic argument is that we serve people who are likely to fail, so why should anyone be surprised when they do fail? This is unacceptable. As Pauline Abernathy, Vice President of the Institute for College Access and Success recently testifed, “While demographics play a role, the evidence is clear that demographics are by no means the sole explanation for the sector’s high default rates.” Among other examples, a 2010 Education Sector report documents the role schools can play in lowering default rates, finding that “…dangerously high default rates for institutions that serve at-risk students are not inevitable…” It is outrageous to suggest that low-income and minority students should expect lower salaries and higher debts. It is even more outrageous for the government to funnel so much money to these schools when they are causing so much harm to vulnerable students. As Jose Cruz, Vice President of the Education Trust, recently said, “America does not need this sector to succeed. We need our students to succeed.”
We need to hold these schools accountable so that they are providing real opportunity to students seeking to better their lives, not just the illusion of opportunity. And as NCLC recommends in these comments to the Department of Education, we need to make sure that there is real relief for students who are harmed.