NEVER MIND that the higher education plans of tens of thousands of students will be disrupted. Or that 8,000 people will lose their jobs. Or that American taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in forgiven student loans. What is apparently of most importance to the Obama administration is its ideological opposition to for-profit colleges and universities. That’s a harsh conclusion, but it is otherwise hard to explain why the Education Department has unabashedly used administrative muscle to destroy another company in the beleaguered industry.
ITT Technical Institutes, one of the nation’s largest for-profit educational chains, on Tuesday abruptly announced that after 50 years in business it was shutting down more than 100 campuses in 38 states. The announcement, displacing an estimated 40,000 students, follows last month’s decision by the Education Department barring the school from enrolling new students using federal student aid and upping its surety requirements. The department said it was acting to protect students and taxpayers, noting the school had been threatened with a loss of accreditation and that it was facing a number of ongoing investigations by both state and federal authorities.
What is so troubling about the department’s aggressive move — which experts presciently called a death sentence — is that not a single allegation of wrongdoing has been proven against the school. Maybe the government is right about ITT’s weaknesses, but its unilateral action without any semblance of due process is simply wrong. “Inappropriate and unconstitutional,” said ITT officials.
Such unfairness sadly is a hallmark of the Obama administration policy toward higher education’s for-profit sector. It has singled out the industry for stringent employment and student loan rules and stepped up enforcement with stiff sanctions that, as The Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reported, have some companies on the brink of ruin.
There is no question that there are shady for-profit colleges and universities that take advantage of students by saddling them with debt and failing to give them marketable skills. They should not be in business. But then the same can be said for some public and private schools, whose wretched weaknesses the government seems glad to overlook.
There should be a level playing field that recognizes the place — and value — of for-profit colleges and universities. Not only do they serve the vocational and educational needs of nontraditional students (older, poorer or minorities) that nonprofit institutions are unable or unwilling to serve, but also they have been a source of innovation in higher education. The government should be looking for ways to strengthen the industry, rather than trying to destroy it.
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