It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that Betsy DeVos is a fan of for-profit colleges. After all, she has championed voucher programs that take funding from public schools and send it to private ones, many of which are run or managed as for-profit enterprises. Unfortunately, her support is not shaken either by the data rebutting the belief that such schools actually provide an education (let alone a superior education), or by the documented fraudulent behavior of for-profit “colleges.”
The New York Times editorial board recently weighed in on DeVos’ roll-back of efforts to protect college students against that fraud.
Say this for Betsy DeVos: The secretary of education has shown an impressive commitment to rescuing her friends in the for-profit college business from pesky measures to rein in their predatory behavior. As pet projects go, it lacks the sulfurous originality of her emerging idea to let states use federal dollars to put guns in schools. But it is a scandal nonetheless. Given the choice between protecting low-income students — and, by extension, American taxpayers — and facilitating the buck-raking of a scandal-ridden industry, Ms. DeVos aggressively pursues Option B.
The Obama-era regulations basically required “truth in advertising.” If too many students at the for-profit school racked up massive student debt–financed, after-all, by We the Taxpayers– and then were unable to qualify for decent jobs, and if the ratio of such failures exceeded a certain level for two out of three years, those schools became ineligible to receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants. The regulation also required for-profit programs to include whether or not they meet federal job-placement standards in their promotional materials.
DeVos said the regulation unfairly targeted for-profit schools, even though–as the Times reported-
A recent review of “borrower defense claims” — requests for loan relief filed with the Education Department by students asserting they were defrauded or misled by their schools — found that almost 99 percent involved for-profit institutions.
There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that for-profit educational institutions are much more interested in profit than in education. DeVos herself doesn’t seem very educated about data, education or the department she presumably runs. Nor is she winning many converts.
A federal court has ruled against her effort to delay implementation of the Obama rules, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” And California just became the first state in the nation to ban for-profit charter schools. The law was inspired by a newspaper investigation confirming allegations of profiteering at the expense of children’s educations. For-profit charter schools currently operating in California “must convert to non-profit management prior to each school’s renewal deadline.”
Although I absolutely support both the regulations DeVos is attacking and California’s requirement that for-profit institutions become nonprofit, the problem isn’t limited to institutions that are organized as private, for-profit enterprises. Any business lawyer can explain the ways in which the line between for-profit and non-profit can be blurred. Create a corporation to provide an arguably publicly- beneficial purpose, and distribute what would otherwise be “profits” as salaries, and voila! (Take a look at some of your local “nonprofit” hospitals…)
And that brings me to Purdue University’s recent acquisition of Kaplan University, a for-profit enterprise now re-branded as public. I think the Century Foundation got it right, when it charged that Purdue University Global Is a For-Profit College Masquerading as a Public University.
In April, the for-profit Kaplan University officially became an arm of Indiana’s public university system. With its new home and new name, Purdue University Global is the first public university to share control with a for-profit company answerable to investors. When the deal was announced last year, Purdue’s president said that critics of for-profit colleges “should be happy” that Purdue was turning Kaplan into a public rather than for-profit institution. Critics, however, wondered whether the for-profit company’s large ongoing role meant, instead, that Kaplan’s history of predatory practices would simply re-emerge under a “public” moniker.
One answer to that question arrived last week, when Purdue faculty members revealed that the online school is requiring instructors to sign a four-page nondisclosure agreement. The pledge, required for Purdue Global employees, prohibits professors and staff from discussing anything they know about the university’s operations with anyone else, including their colleagues (unless those people already have access to the information). Officials at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) describe the pledge as “unprecedented for a public, non-profit university” and “breathtakingly inappropriate in higher education.”
Now, The Century Foundation has new documents showing that predatory practices at Purdue Global were baked into the plan from the very beginning.
Those documents–described in detail at the linked article–reveal a number of ways in which Purdue Global was designed to be much more of a for-profit college obligated to its investors than a public institution serving students.
I am a big believer in markets, profits, and capitalism…in the economic sectors where markets and profits are appropriate. Education is not one of those sectors.
Rather than strengthening performance of education’s public function, rather than recognizing the critically important role of education in producing a literate and informed polity, the Republicans running our government–and the Republican running Purdue University–are elevating profit over purpose, and moving us in precisely the wrong direction.