The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday issued long-awaited regulations to increase federal oversight of for-profit colleges, despite an intense, year-long lobbying effort by the colleges to fight the new rules and opposition from Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill.
The regulations aim to rein in for-profit education programs that saddle students with more loan debt than they can reasonably repay. They also try to reform “some of the career college programs [that] do not succeed” and “bad actors” that have misled students, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call late Wednesday.
When it comes to the entertainment industry, I am critical of the government stepping in to support their failing models through legislation that will harm the Internet and innovation. I think I would be a hypocrite if I supported the government doing the same for traditional universities.
I’m no fan of for-profit universities in general. I find many of their classes to be low-quality, low-interaction, lowest common denominator. However, that’s not really the point. The point is, this is a marketplace. If their customers find that they are fill a need, then they should be able to compete, with the same benefits that non-profit universities get. Non-profit universities should change to address the needs of “non-traditional” students (though they are far from non-traditional these days).
I know the complains about recruitment into these schools. The recruitment is downright criminal, but no more so than credit cards or even military recruiters in some instances. I once know someone who did that type of recruiting. It was essentially a call center job with great bonuses for getting someone signed up. He made a ton of money, until he couldn’t stand doing it any longer. He felt like a predator, and he was. But all of this still doesn’t justify these controls on for-profit universities.
And, really, cutting funding for programs that don’t pay well after graduation? Try doing that for traditional universities. There are plenty of programs that don’t pay well. Liberal Arts is an umbrella term for those programs.
Universities want protections from the government to protect their failing models, which is completely unacceptable. I hoped that this sort of competition would prod them to change their own programs, but instead, they are trying to hobble the competition.
What does this mean? This means that universities will probably still feel the pressure to change, but they will have much more time to do so. Is that a bad thing? No. Certain not. But it is a bad precedent to set. What it means for for-profit universities is that they will likely be cutting many of the programs that don’t lead directly to jobs that pay well. Maybe this is a good also, but what about the people who really want to study in those areas. The for-profit universities are likely the only places that offer those programs in a manner that is accessible (online, flexible scheduling). It’s sad that some of the diversity will fade based on these policies.