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May 01, 2014 12:00 PM What if we Tried to Apply the For-Profit Colleges Rule to Real Colleges?

By Daniel Luzer

In March Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that the Department of Education would try yet again to crack down on abusive for-profit colleges. As I wrote:

A program fails and an institution becomes ineligible for aid if student loan payments are greater than 12 percent of graduate (or former student) incomes. …A program would [also] lose eligibility for federal financial aid if its program has a default rate of 30 percent or greater for three consecutive years. If a school has too many former students who fail to make payments on student loans as scheduled according to the terms of the loans the school will lose access to federal financial aid money.

This makes sense, as these are quite terrible colleges, but the Washington Post (oddly still carrying water for the for-profit college industry despite no longer being associated with the for-profit Kaplan University) notes something interesting in
an editorial:

Steve Gunderson, who heads the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, noted in a March 13 letter to Education that if the proposed debt-to-earning standards were applied across higher education, programs failing the metric would include the journalism program at Northwestern University, the law program at George Washington University and the social work program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

George Washington University is a problem for a lot of reasons, but that is a really relevant revelation. The editorial concludes that “It is hard… to see the logic of requiring schools that serve a challenging population of poor and working-class students to meet 845 pages of cumbersome standards that even many traditional schools would be hard-pressed to meet.”

It seems odd to presume from this that we should leave for-profits alone, but it’s good point. While it’s true that people at for-profit colleges are mostly working class students looking to obtain better jobs, getting screwed is getting screwed, even if the students are middle class.

Hey, maybe if we finally manage to reign in the for-profits it might be time to be a little more strategic about how we spend federal money on real colleges.

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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