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May 09, 2014 1:00 PM Dear Washington Post, You Can Stop Sticking Up for For-Profit Colleges Now

By Daniel Luzer

Recently, in a piece about employment outcomes of for-profit students vs. those who attend traditional colleges, I noted that the Washington Post recently ran another one of its defending for-profit colleges editorials, even though it’s no longer owned by the same company that owns the for-profit Kaplan University.

Former Deputy Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education Robert Shireman points out in an article at the Huffington Post that it went a step further in April, publishing this “fact check” about for-profit students and earnings. While now there’s no connection (aside from a historic one) between the two institutions, the Washington Post is still trying to “set the record straight,” by well, not really setting the record straight.

The point under debate was about how 72 percent of programs at for-profit colleges “produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.” But what’s truly weird about this editorial is that there appeared to be certain assumptions built into it about the Post’s role in this little for-profit college endeavor.

WashingtonPost

As Shireman put it:

In shrugging off the Washington Post Company’s former ownership of the for-profit Kaplan University, [the writer] asserted that with the sale of the Post to Jeff Bezos “there is no longer a potential conflict of interest.” Excuse me, but the Post’s ownership of Kaplan was much more than a potential conflict of interest. It was an actual, bona fide conflict. The Post stood to gain financially by dodging oversight of an explosion of predatory practices at for-profit colleges, including Post/Kaplan. Indeed, the CEO of the Washington Post Company actively lobbied to shut down the whole regulatory process (this occurred while I was at the Education Department trying to rein in the abuses). As a newspaper, the Post had an actual conflict, not a potential conflict.
In covering the issues associated with for-profit colleges, the Washington Post has fallen victim to the skewed rhetoric of its former corporate sibling, Kaplan. Because of the newspaper’s historical commitment to good journalism, especially in light of the its former family ties, the Post owes the public an extra dose of scrutiny of its own assumptions and assertions.

The Post article was, in fact, so misleading, that even the Department of Education itself felt compelled to issue a highly detailed response, explaining that there was some “pretty important information that the Post ignored—information that supports the Department’s statistic and further explains why consumers and taxpayers should be concerned about some career training programs that seek to make a profit.”

Ben Miller at the New America Foundation picks the argument apart, too.

Yes, 72 percent of the programs analyzed produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.

This is pretty clear, the outcomes just aren’t that good.

Listen, I understand that the relationship with Kaplan University was really awkward and placed the paper in a pretty uncomfortable position. But the newspaper is now owned by Jeff Bezos, who has nothing to do with Kaplan. It’s time to try to go back to honest journalism now.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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