A job isn't the only reason to go to college, but for many students it is their main reason. Now a nonprofit group is arguing that states should do more to crack down on schools that promise a job but don't deliver.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how a Department of Education proposal to regulate career-oriented programs, primarily from for-profit colleges, should be applied to all schools to help families choose between schools. Those rules, which are largely aimed at improving transparency and restricting financial aid to programs that don't meet the proposed standards, should be finalized in October.
This week, the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit that specializes in consumer law and policy, said the focus should be on shutting down the programs that don't meet minimum standards — not just giving families more information.
For one, the group argues that states' oversight should extend equally to accredited and unaccredited schools to ensure that they aren't using "deceptive practices" to encourage students to enroll. Some states have been lenient with accredited programs, but they should also be scrutinized since they qualify for financial aid and have the potential to cause greater financial harm, the group says. The proposal also suggests that states set strict standards for schools by requiring them to meet minimum graduation rates and place a set number of students in jobs. "Looking at job placement rates is the most direct measure you can have in terms of are schools doing what they promised they will do," says Robyn Smith, author of the report and an attorney that works with the National Consumer Law Center. The group argues meeting those minimums should be a condition for state approval to operate.
Among other recommendations: States can ensure that complaints filed against schools are thoroughly investigated and that students are offered some form of relief, the report notes. They can also make sure that any boards set up to oversee schools are not run by a majority of representatives from the schools themselves. (You can read the full list of recommendations here.)
So why call on the states to make changes if the U.S. Department of Education is already working on rules that would hold for-profit schools accountable. States can be more nimble than the federal government since they are responsible for approving schools and prohibiting deceptive business practices in their area, Smith argues. "They are in a better position to monitor the schools and to respond quickly when there are complaints and when problems are discovered," she says.
Some states are taking steps to make it easier for prospective students to find out a school's completion rates and default levels, but most don't. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, argues that the standards being proposed to monitor for-profit schools should be applied to public schools and private universities offering career-oriented programs as well, especially since students attending those programs often rely on federal student loans or financial aid being funded with tax dollars. "The rest of us are paying for this," he says. "This is our money and it's being used in ways that are not productive."