Tag: educational success

War on For-Profit Colleges Reeks Even Worse

As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, though the sector is no doubt rife with waste and home to some dirty-dealers, attacks on for-profit colleges are almost certainly driven by politics and ideology, not educational concerns. Were it otherwise, all of higher education would be taking a beating for its bankrupting waste and widespread failure.

A recent symptom of anti-profit witch-huntery was the misrepresentation of GAO reporting on what “secret shoppers” found while visiting select for-profit institutions. At the time the findings were released I thought the main problem was that members of the media and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) – who has been leading the crusade against for-profit schools – were using the results to smear the whole proprietary sector when the GAO was clear about examining a nonrepresentative sample of schools. Unfortunately, it turns out the GAO might actually be in on the demonization.

On November 30 – without making any announcement that I could find on its website – the GAO released a modified version of its report, and according to a comparison between the old report and new one by the Coalition for Educational Success, the new version contains several changes that cast its for-profit targets in better light than they first appeared.

One vignette, for instance, originally said that a school’s admissions representative told an undercover applicant that she “should” take out maximum federal loans even if she didn’t need all the money. The change says the representative told the applicant that she “could” take maximum loans – a pretty big difference.

Another section went from only reporting that a representative told an applicant that the school has graduates making $120,000 to $130,000 in a job that, according to the GAO, typically makes less than $70,00 a year, to reporting that the representative also informed the applicant that she “could expect a job with a likely starting salary of $13-$14 per hour or $15 if the applicant was lucky.” $15 an hour translates into about $30,000 a year, and completely changes the tenor of the vignette.

According to Stephen Burd of the Center for American Progress, career colleges have been self-servingly crying – or at least whispering – foul over the GAO report for months now. Burd has been a leading for-profit basher, but I’d have been inclined to give only limited credence to concerns about dirty pool, too, until this latest revelation trickled out.

Now, though much needs to be determined about why the myriad changes to the report were made, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to learn that people at the GAO have actually been in on the crusade to demonize proprietary colleges. I also, unfortunately, won’t be surprised if no one pays attention to any of this, and the shameless, responsibility-dodging war on for-profits continues unabated.

Enough Community College PDA

Yesterday, President Obama hosted the White House Summit on Community Colleges, and in-your-face love was in the air. President Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden, a community college professor, couldn’t keep their hands off their signficant other, lavishing all sorts of praise on their favorite little schools.

Swooned Dr. Biden about the dreamy things community colleges do for their students:

They are students like the mother who shared her experience with us on the White House website of working towards a degree while raising three children and straddling financial challenges.  Now employed and the holder of a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, she wrote, “Community colleges didn’t just change my life, they gave me my life.”

Community colleges do that every day. 

Ick!

The President, too, couldn’t hide his affection:

So I think it’s clear why I asked Jill to travel the country visiting community colleges -– because, as she knows personally, these colleges are the unsung heroes of America’s education system.  They may not get the credit they deserve.  They may not get the same resources as other schools.  But they provide a gateway to millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life.

Like the guy with the locker next to Mr. and Mrs. Lovebird, all I can say is “oh, come on!”

Community colleges might be a good option for some people, but they are hardly paragons of educational success. Quite the opposite: According to the U.S. Department of Education, they have the worst graduation rates of any two-year sector of higher education. Only around 22 percent of public, two-year college students graduate within three years, versus roughly 49 percent of private, not-for-profit attendees and about 59 percent of private, for-profit students.

Wait! What’s that? Private, for-profit institutions outperform super-cute community colleges…by a lot? But they’re the ugliest, meanest, least popular kids in school!  Nobody likes them!

Oh, I know what’s going on here! For-profit schools cost a lot more than community colleges, right? That’s why they’re so disliked.

That’s true if you look at tuition prices. But community colleges get big subsidies from government, especially state and local taxpayers. So they might actually cost a lot, it’s just that they sneak the money out of your back pocket and then congratulate themselves for charging students so little.  

When you look at government expenditures per-pupil, including aid to schools and students, it becomes clear that community colleges are, in fact, just as mean and greedy as for-profits. Indeed, former Clinton administration economist Robert Shapiro has calculated that they are actually more costly to taxpayers than for-profit schools (see table 24). According to his calculations, two-year public schools cost taxpayers $6,919 per student, while private, for-profits cost just $3,628. 

No wonder the summit turned my stomach! At the same time the administration and its allies in Congress are bashing for-profit schools, the President has a love fest with community colleges that are generally much worse. Unfortunately, it leaves you concluding that for-profits could walk on water and it wouldn’t matter: As long as they’re honest about trying to make a buck, they’ll be beaten up in the parking lot and never invited to any of the cool summits.

Evidence, Please?

A couple of days ago the Common Core State Standards Initiative released a new draft of its national, “college- and career-readiness” math and English curricular standards. The content of the standards isn’t of huge interest to me – the biggest dangers are in the implementation of standards, not the drafting – but what is of great interest is determining whether having national standards makes sense in the first place. Unfortunately, it appears that many standards fans couldn’t care less about that little concern.

To satisfy my interest, I’ve been delving into empirical work that might back claims that national standards are necessary for educational success, or just that they improve academic outcomes. And what have I found? As I laid out in a recent National Review Online op-ed, and argue today on the New York Times“Room for Debate” blog, there’s hardly any such evidence. There is scant good research on national standards, and what there is largely ignores serious questions about the confounding impact of such factors as culture and changing educational attitudes.

This dearth of research explains why national standardizers are almost totally silent about evidence and instead defend their proposals with soundbites about high expectations for all kids, or the ”craziness” of having 50 state standards.  It also explains why they seem to be in a big hurry to get standards drafted, and why the Obama administration is already dangling billions of dollars in front of states to get them to “voluntarily” adopt whatever the CCSSI produces. Quite simply, were the public to find out that national standards are essentially an untested drug being slipped down their throats, they might object. And nothing, it seems, is more important to the national standards crowd than ensuring that that doesn’t happen.