For-profit colleges need regulation

By Editorial Board

For-profit colleges have come under fire in recent months because of their questionable recruitment practices and reliance on government funding. Many such colleges target low-income students with no other educational prospects or veterans with access to GI Bill money to pay for their education. They promise people a chance to earn degrees online or in their spare time after work, but some offer degrees that aren’t legitimately accredited.

For-profit recruiters receive a commission for every student they enroll, and many schools either directly or indirectly encourage them to use whatever tactics are necessary to pressure people into signing up. They are known to harass prospective students on the phone and mislead them about how much money they could make with degrees or certificates from these colleges.

Unlike traditional universities, for-profit colleges are run like businesses—they exist primarily to bring in money for investors and CEOs. Some can make up to 90 percent of their profits from federal Pell grants and government-subsidized loans. Once they get that federal money, it’s up to students to pay off the massive debts they incur whether they wind up getting a useful education or not. Many students don’t even finish. For-profits tend to have higher dropout rates than nonprofit colleges, and they cost exponentially more—on average, approximately $500 per credit hour as opposed to the nonprofit average of $75. Meanwhile, the CEOs of these colleges make millions of dollars each year.

The government should regulate the questionable practices and activities of for-profit colleges to put a stop to the ones that are just two-bit scams. While there are some success stories of students who have done well with degrees or certificates from for-profits, the recent boom in the industry created more schools essentially cheating students out of large sums of money. Many for-profits lure students in, take their federal loan and grant money and then hang them out to dry with massive debt and no substantial education to show for it. If federal funds are bankrolling these institutions, the government should have a say in how they operate and make sure their practices remain legal and ethical.

Furthermore, education isn’t the type of thing that should be run by private, profit-driven corporations in the first place. Colleges are supposed to work in the best interests of their students. When a company is focused exclusively on the bottom line, students’ needs aren’t going to be a priority. Many of these institutions spend more on marketing each year than their students’ education.

Legitimate nonprofit colleges, universities and community colleges should also help lure working people who want to go back to school away from these scams by offering more online courses or more courses with flexible hours. Providing positive, student-oriented options for the people who might otherwise be tricked into wasting money at a for-profit would help them get real educations at more reasonable prices and prevent predatory institutions from taking advantage of students who don’t know any better.