A coalition of for-profit colleges today released a set of industry standards for “responsible conduct,” a response to heightened scrutiny from federal regulators.
The U.S. Education Department has tightened regulatory control of for-profit colleges over the past year, out of concern that some institutions lured students with false promises and heavy-handed recruiting tactics and then loaded them up with debt.
The standards come from a newly formed Foundation for Educational Success, itself an offshoot of the Coalition for Educational Success, a consortium of for-profit colleges. A group of schools representing 17 percent of the sector have signed on to the standards document. The group includes Kaplan Higher Education, part of The Washington Post Company.
Many of the standards speak to criticisms that have been raised about the industry. Here are some of the standards:
■ Admission and financial aid officers must not tell prospective students that there are any guarantees they will graduate, get a job or earn any particular salary. For-profits have been accused of making exaggerated claims about employability and earnings.
■ New students must be apprised of the total projected cost of their education, as well as completion and employment rates, before they enroll. Several current and former for-profit students have told me they learned the cost of their education only when the bill arrived.
■ Admission officers must tell applicants not to falsify information on aid forms. Students told congressional investigators they were told to lie to get more aid money.
■ Colleges should offer new students a money-back trial enrollment period of at least 21 days. Some large for-profit providers have already done this.
U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) offered a measured statement of support. He said the initiative “shows that some in the industry are willing to take a first step towards establishing standards of transparency and accountability. More needs to be done, and those schools which resist even this modest effort tell us all we need to know about their own practices and records.”