Regulating For-Profit Colleges: A Much-Needed Reform

By: Inoljt, 

Recently the Department of Education unveiled new regulations for colleges. These regulations are aimed at for-profit colleges such as Kaplan University and the University of Phoenix, although they apply to all forms of higher education in general.

The rules stop federal funding for programs whose graduating students consistently default on their student debt. Specifically, this happens only if ”fewer than 35 percent of its graduates are repaying principal on their student loans three years out, and, for the typical graduate, loan payments exceed 30 percent of discretionary income as well as 12 percent of total earnings.”

Those are some pretty lenient conditions. If 65% of students default upon their debt, and said debt is more than 30% of their free income – well, that’s a lot of debt for what appears to be a very, very poor program. Certainly a program in which 65% of its graduates are failing ought to be called a failure. It probably doesn’t deserve federal funding.

The outraged reaction of for-profit colleges to these regulations also tells a pretty revealing story. For-profit colleges spent a load of money hiring lobbyists to fight the regulations and were able to successfully soften them up (for instance programs only start losing money by 2015). They also got much support amongst the Republican Party, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives actually passed an amendment to stop the regulations.

It is quite baffling, and very sad, that Republicans did this. Indeed, Republican opposition to these type of common-sense reforms in education seems to be part of a puzzling pattern. Republicans also opposed reforms to student loans, a bill which increased aid to college students and put pressure on private, subprime-type, student loan companies. Under Republican control, the House of Representatives has targeted the Pell Grant as one of its top targets for spending cuts. The Pell Grant gives (far too little) money to low-income college students. Surely something else – perhaps the $450 million F-35 back-up jet engine which Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls an “unnecessary and extravagant expense” -better deserves these spending cuts.

All in all, curtailing the activities of for-profit colleges is a very good endeavor. For-profit colleges are akin to a form of legalized scamming. They take in often poor, often desperate Americans, promise them jobs and hope, but end up just giving them tens of thousands of dollars in tuition debt (which the federal government then picks up).

There is a much better option for poor Americans looking for a college education: community colleges, which are far less expensive but actually are legitimate institutions. Unfortunately, community colleges are quite bureaucratic, and their fees are rising. More funding could fix this problem. Yet here again one finds Republicans advocating cuts to community college funding; their opposition to President Barack Obama’s student loan reform reduced community college funding from the original $10 billion to a mere $2 billion. Why do they do this?

Nevertheless, this reform does represent a step in progress. It definitely will curb some of the excesses that cause so much student loan debt. It won’t solve everything, but it’s much better than nothing.



Independence Doesn’t Spring From Ignorance

It’s no secret that many young Americans graduate from school with little more than the knowledge of where to find the cheat codes for the  Call of Duty electronic game. Only a small number know how to use a globe or know you have to pay interest on credit card debt. They expect to start jobs with $100,000 salaries…at McDonalds. And enough math skills to balance a checkbook? Fugetaboutit!

Every holiday a plethora of polls expose the latest statistics for American Dumbassness. This year it’s a July 4th Marist poll pointing out that only 26% percent of Americans (4o% of 18-29 year olds) don’t know which country we fought in the American revolution.

Clearly, we’ve done a bad job of educating our children and parenting them in such a way that they’re ready to learn basic skills. But then, it’s hard for a parent or teacher raised in a dysfunctional  href="">educational system to teach subjects for which they’re only moderately better prepared than their students. Think of a copy machine. As you make copies of copies of copies, each new copy progressively degrades more.

Of course, there are many reasons for the collapse and just as many ideas of how to put the wheels back on the school bus. The Every Child Left Behind Act, school voucher programs, the abandonment of tried and true teaching methods and curricula, and cataclysmic budget cuts all do their part. Members of the ignorati, like Rick Santorum, simply believe only liberals are responsible.

It’s appalling that kids don’t know who we bested (geography lesson: not England – they aren’t the same thing) at Yorktown (crib note: it’s in Virginia along the York River). It’s even more appalling that parents, teachers, and politicians trying to win seats in the very heart of American democracy know just as little as the kids they’ve helped intellectually cripple.

American education policy is in a shambles. It seems all we can do about it is spew dogma at each other. Since dogma is a “big word”, here’s a little vocabulary help. One definition of dogma is, “a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds“. Do you know how I know that definition? I learned how to use a dictionary.

Study up kids. You should know what your soon-to-be adult screeds mean before you end up being incapable of delivering them.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

A Modest Suggestion on Improving High School Education


College education is different in many ways from K-12 education. Unlike high school or elementary teachers, for instance, professors actually know what they are talking about. Another difference: America’s colleges are the best in the world, while its high schools are quite mediocre.

There are many reasons why this is so. One reason is that the average college student pays several thousand dollars for his or her education, funding the average public high school can only dream of. Another one is that American society respects college professors, but not high school teachers so much.

Nevertheless, there is at least one thing colleges undeniably do better than high schools – and which high schools can readily adopt. This is the professor evaluation. At the end of every class, college professors hand out anonymous evaluations for students to fill out. College professors then get an unbiased view of what students think of them, and what their weaknesses are.

For some strange reason, high schools have never implemented this procedure. Most probably nobody has thought of it before.

They should. Nowadays education reformers are quite passionate about improving teacher performance. What better way to do so than by asking the students themselves?

For this reason, however, teacher unions may be resistant to the idea; they may argue that high school students are not mature enough to effectively evaluate a teacher. There is also a simple way to address this opposition: keep teacher evaluations for teacher’s eyes only. This does little to dilute the effectiveness of this reform, because teacher evaluations have their greatest effect on the teachers themselves. It also gets rid of the fear that bad evaluations may lead to teachers being fired.

Teachers truly do care about their job, and they often strive to improve themselves. Yet often they are groping in the dark. A teacher may hear rumors that he or she is boring or too political, but students are naturally reluctant to say this to his or her face. Anonymous student evaluations enable teachers to actually find out what they’re doing right and wrong. Indeed, they probably are the most effective way of doing this.

Teacher evaluations are simple, extremely effective, and cost practically no money. There’s no magic cure to the ailments that assail America’s high schools, but instituting teacher evaluations may come the closest that there is to one.



Wall Street Tax To Pay For Public Colleges?

Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur talk about a proposal to charge Wall Street a financial transaction tax to pay for public college, the tax would allow students to attend public universities tuition free.


A Congratulatory Note to Our New Grads (With a Caveat)

By Robert Valencia

My niece—who is pursuing a degree in psychology—asked me a week ago to review her essay on the American Dream for one of her English courses. Her essay began explaining what the “American Dream” ought to be: economic mobility, home ownership, and better education. But the remaining two pages offered a gloomy viewpoint: the American Dream has become more and more elusive for her.

Though she’s two years shy from obtaining her bachelor’s degree, her disappointment in finding a job (or in her case, a paid internship) very much reflects not only what our latest Public Opinion Monthly found with regard to the mounting pessimism surrounding the “Dream” premise, but also the economic outlook many of the brand-new college graduates face today. According to a recent article from The New York Times, employment rates for new college graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years in tandem with their starting salary: $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who joined the workforce in 2006 to 2008.

Some of the lucky members of the Class of 2010—56 percent—have held at least one job during the spring semester. However, some the jobs these graduates attain do not necessarily require the skills they learned in college; we hear stories from chemistry majors working in retail stores or Latin American studies graduates tending bar or waiting tables. What’s more, many of these students are having trouble paying student loans, which have reached a median of $20,000 for graduates in the classes of 2006 and 2010.

To make matters worse, some researchers point out that many of our new graduates are not being taught the necessary critical thinking and writing skills during their undergraduate years. NYU Professor Richard Arum co-authored the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a study that shows a large number of students who showed no progress on initial tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing. The book went on to say that many of them had minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, and that the average student only spent 12 to 13 hours per week studying. The authors believe that academic investments have become a lower priority, as many schools prefer to invest in “student centers, deluxe dormitory rooms, and expensive gyms.”

As we approach a new electoral cycle, it is imperative to remind our elected officials that expanding economic and educational opportunities for all must be paramount in their political agenda. Despite such a bleak outlook, our recent graduates deserve a fair chance to achieve their full potential, and where they start out in their lives should not predetermine where they end up. Our country should adopt programs like student loan counseling (for recent grads) and worker retraining (for the more experienced workforce) that will in turn strengthen our economy.

All in all, we salute all the new graduates in the prime of their professional lives—an effort that in the end will pay off financially and intellectually, even though unemployment and other negative factors stand in their way for now. And here is perhaps a note of relief: We’re all in this together, and it’s our responsibility as a society to create and hold on to basic tools and resources to provide security for ourselves and our families. To read more about The Opportunity Agenda’s work on economic recovery and opportunity, click here.


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