From a recent edition of *The Chronicle of Higher Education*. I have some serious problems with re-naming some for-profits as institutes of "higher education." We can discuss this.
For-Profit Colleges Want a Little Respect The institutions are pushing Congress to change a key definition that prevents them from receiving certain kinds of federal aid
By STEPHEN BURD
New York Mildred García has spent much of her life breaking down barriers.
Born to parents who came to New York from Puerto Rico in the late 1940s, Ms. García spent her childhood with six siblings in a cramped Brooklyn tenement.
She often dreamed of a better life, and thought she could get it by making the most of her education. She did not get much encouragement. One high-school guidance counselor told her that the best she could hope to become was a secretary.
But Ms. García, 51, has a stubborn streak -- one she attributes to her parents -- and refused to let naysayers get in her way. After graduating from high school, she enrolled in a community college, becoming the first and only member of her family to seek a higher education. She would eventually receive a bachelor's degree in business education from the City University of New York's Bernard M. Baruch College, a master's degree in the same subject from New York University, and a master's and doctorate in higher education from the Teachers College of Columbia University.
Today, after 30 years of working her way up the academic ladder, she is president of Berkeley College, a for-profit business college with five campuses in New York and New Jersey, including one here in Manhattan. She is part of a select group. According to the American Council on Education, she is one of only about 40 Hispanic women who are college presidents at the 3,200 two- and four-year colleges the group monitors.
"Higher education opened up doors for me," she says. "It has helped me find my calling."
Despite her achievements, Ms. García is still fighting to overcome barriers. Chief among them is one that keeps her college from getting the respect that she believes it deserves.
Berkeley has had plenty of success with students who come from backgrounds similar to Ms. García's: low-income, minority, first-generation students. The college boasts that it places 96 percent of its graduates who are seeking employment in jobs related to their studies within 90 days of when they leave the institution.
Ms. García believes that Berkeley could become a good model for other colleges that serve large proportions of disadvantaged students. But, she says, many higher-education leaders disregard the college's success because it is a for-profit institution.
"People tend to look at us as being 'less than,'" she says. "Our students are getting the same wonderful academic experience as those at some other institutions, and I would argue that in some cases, perhaps even better."
Ms. García is one of hundreds of career-college officials who say that that federal lawmakers could go a long way toward breaking down those "arbitrary distinctions" between for-profit and more traditional public and private colleges by altering a key federal law that leaves proprietary colleges out of the definition of higher-education institutions.
As Congress begins considering legislation to renew the Higher Education Act, the law that governs most federal student-aid programs, advocates for career colleges are calling on lawmakers to replace the definition of "an institution of higher education" with one that includes proprietary institutions. With that simple change, for-profit colleges could be eligible for millions of dollars of aid from a variety of federal programs.
"The differences between the educational programs and courses offered by nonprofit and for-profit higher-education institutions have become more and more blurred," writes the Career College Association, the largest national lobbying group for proprietary institutions, in a publication that outlines its goals for reauthorization.
"For-profit higher education has achieved a level of maturity and credibility that requires changes to the Higher Education Act."
The effort to change the definition in the law, however, is facing fierce opposition from representatives of many nonprofit public and private colleges. They say that career-college officials are being disingenuous when they say that this is an effort to get more respect. What the for-profit programs really want, leaders of traditional colleges say, is more money.
Currently, for-profit institutions are eligible to receive federal grant and loan money to award to their students. But the colleges are almost entirely restricted from receiving federal money to improve their institutions and expand their educational offerings.
For example, the colleges are ineligible for money that goes to institutions that serve large proportions of low-income students and is used to develop curriculums, facilities, and endowments.
If the definition is changed, for-profit institutions would be able to compete for those grants. And that would be unfortunate, says Karen Rose of Fullerton College, a public two-year college that participates in Title V, which provides grants to Hispanic-serving institutions -- those where at least 25 percent of the students are Hispanic, at least half of whom are from low-income families.
"Why do for-profit schools feel they need to be included in this program?" asks Ms. Rose, director of the college's office of special projects. "Is it for helping to advance the success of students, or is it for perceived monetary gain and profit?"
Ms. García insists that this fight "is not about money."
"It's about being pushed aside, and not giving voice to the wonderful contributions that Berkeley has made to the lives of our students."
For for-profit institutions, the fight over the definition in the Higher Education Act is yet another chapter in their efforts to put the past behind them.
Despite the emergence of several high-profile career colleges like the University of Phoenix and ITT Educational Services, which have been hot on Wall Street and popular with students, the leaders of for-profit institutions are still dogged by questions about their motivations and ethics.
A Striking Change
Just over a decade ago, all proprietary institutions were tarred by news coverage of fly-by-night operations set up to reap profits from federal student-aid programs. In 1992, Congress gave the U.S. Education Department more power to crack down on those problem institutions. Since then, more than 1,500 for-profit colleges have either been barred from participating in the student-aid programs or have withdrawn voluntarily because of the more-rigorous federal standards.
Reeling from the negative publicity, the for-profit sector had to battle hard to avoid being thrown out of the aid programs completely.
As the problems of the past have faded, career-college lobbyists have turned their efforts to pushing policy makers to relax certain rules that for-profit institutions must follow to participate in the federal-aid programs. Though they have had only limited success so far, this reauthorization may provide them with a golden opportunity. For-profit colleges have never had more political clout with the White House and in Congress than they do now.
Bush administration officials and Republican Congressional leaders have been lavishing the institutions with praise. They have applauded career colleges for being more responsive than traditional institutions to the needs of students -- offering, for example, flexible schedules, so that adult students can take classes at night or during the weekend -- and to the needs of business and industry.
The change has been most striking at the Education Department, which, under the Clinton administration, seemed to view proprietary institutions with suspicion. Today, the two top officials in charge of higher-education policy making at the department have close ties to the for-profit sector.
Before becoming the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, Sally Stroup worked as a lobbyist for the University of Phoenix, the for-profit chain. Her deputy, Jeffrey Andrade, served as a consultant to the Career College Association, working on its recommendations for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act before joining the department.
Legislative Battle Ahead
The Bush administration has not taken a position on changing the definition of an "institution of higher education." The Republican leaders of the education committee in the House of Representatives, however, have signaled that that will be a priority for them.
Speaking at a hearing before the House subcommittee on higher education, Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon of California, the panel's Republican chairman, said that "it is imperative to look at current law to see how it may preclude reputable, fiscally sound institutions" from "participating in programs under the Higher Education Act."
This issue is not new to Mr. McKeon. In 1998, he helped push legislation through Congress that expanded the definition of an "institution of higher education" to ensure that for-profit colleges could participate in all of the programs under Title IV, the part of the Higher Education Act that governs student grant and loan programs.
As a result, career colleges can now participate in several programs from which they had been excluded, such as the TRIO programs, which help prepare and motivate low-income students for college.
Lobbyists for proprietary institutions applauded the change at the time. But they say now that by effectively creating two different definitions of a higher-education institution -- one for Title IV and one for the rest of the law's titles -- Congress made the law unduly complicated.
"At best, this difference creates confusion and unintentional mistakes," the Career College Association writes in a publication that outlines its goals for reauthorization.
"At worst, it allows for the deliberate exclusion of institutions" from certain federal programs.
Public- and private-college lobbyists, however, reject those arguments. "We believe that the current bifurcated definition has worked well and do not believe that it causes any confusion," the leaders of the American Council on Education wrote in a letter to the Education Department in February. The letter contained recommendations developed by the council and close to 50 college groups for reauthorization.
The council's leaders added that institutions with a profit motive are ineligible for money from certain federal programs with good reason. "The narrower definition is based on the assumption that public and nonprofit institutions of higher education are 'assets irrevocably dedicated to the public interest,'" the letter stated.
This distinction is particularly important, higher-education lobbyists say, in the case of federal programs, like those that fall under Title III of the law, which are designed to help struggling colleges improve their infrastructures and beef up their endowments. David S. Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, says that it is appropriate for the government to withhold "certain types of public subsidies" from institutions in which "profit-making is a fundamental motivation."
A Shrinking Pie
Many leaders of nonprofit colleges are particularly concerned that a change in the definition would make thousands of for-profit institutions eligible to compete for programs that are already stretched thin.
For instance, Mr. Baime says that community-college leaders have had to "scrape and claw" for every dollar that lawmakers have put into the Title III "Strengthening Institutions Program," which provides money to colleges where at least 50 percent of students receive financial aid or where a substantial number are Pell Grant recipients. Because of their demographics, two-year public colleges have been the program's primary beneficiaries.
For the 2003 fiscal year, Congress provided $82-million for this program, about the same amount that it received eight years ago. And with the Congressional Budget Office projecting the budget deficit to exceed $400-billion this year, college lobbyists do not expect to see much growth in the program.
"As pools of money and resources are being delimited," says Marilynn Liddell, president of Aims Community College, in Colorado, "this is one of the least appropriate times to start broadening the pool of competitors for this program."
Advocates of institutions that serve Hispanics are also concerned about the possibility of proprietary institutions winning Title V grants. That program has a budget of $93-million for the 2003 fiscal year.
Antonio R. Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, says that because of spending limitations, only half of the 200 institutions that are qualified to receive these grants can do so.
"To dilute that limited amount of money even further would certainly be a problem for our institutions," he says.
Lobbyists for for-profit institutions say such fears are exaggerated. A change in the law would not automatically qualify career colleges for the awards but would just make them eligible to compete. Applications to participate in the programs would still be judged on their merits.
"If someone bids for something, they have the right to be refused," says Stephen J. Jerome, president of Monroe College, a for-profit college in the Bronx.
"So I don't think that there will be a radical change in the distribution of awards."
On Different Pages
When it comes to the question of who should be included in the definition, however, not all proprietary institutions are on the same page.
The Career College Association is pushing Congress to include all for-profit institutions that have been approved by the Education Department to participate in federal student-aid programs in the new definition. "No one that meets the criteria set by the Education Department should be denied access to the programs" in the higher-education law, says Bruce D. Leftwich, the association's vice president for government relations.
But some leaders of for-profit institutions say that the career-college group's proposal goes too far. They bristle at the idea of truck-driving academies and beauty schools applying for federal aid to colleges.
The Association of Proprietary Colleges, a group that is led by Mr. Monroe and represents over 35 for-profit institutions in New York, is asking Congress to extend the definition only to degree-granting institutions. Many of the colleges in this group are accredited by the regional Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The group points out that in New York, degree-granting proprietary institutions are part of the definition of a higher-education institution. Certificate-granting institutions are not included in the definition and are regulated by a different bureau of the state Education Department.
Donald E. Simon, the dean of college relations at Monroe College, says that the distinction is appropriate.
"Degree-granting colleges carry a certain level of responsibility, quality, and integrity that other institutions might not," he says.
Should the proprietary colleges succeed in persuading Congress to alter the definition to include them, Ms. García says, Berkeley would qualify as a Hispanic-serving institution since a third of the students at the institution are Hispanic.
Although Ms. García insists that the fight to expand the definition is not about money, she does not rule out seeking federal grants if the proprietary institutions are victorious. "We would consider it only if we could help our students," she says. "We would need to look at what we are not doing that we should be doing."
Grimis, I'm just curious as to why you say that. Do you happen to know how some for-profits operate? I've worked at one for two years now, and I can tell you that the general feel of the school, and in fact often the *stated purpose* from administrators, is that the school is out to make money, period. NOT educate students, and if they happen to make a buck then that's cool. It's to make money. Do you think that academic values just might be thrown away in such a quest? And do you think that these really should be defined as "higher education" schools because of complaints like this?
Remember, this isn't coming from someone in traditional academia complaining at the competition. Nor is it coming from a disgruntled former employee of a for-profit.
Midajah with the belt - when all was right with the world.
Originally posted by DMCDo you happen to know how some for-profits operate? I've worked at one for two years now, and I can tell you that the general feel of the school, and in fact often the *stated purpose* from administrators, is that the school is out to make money, period. NOT educate students, and if they happen to make a buck then that's cool. It's to make money.
I'm currently working at a private for profit and my experience is exactly the opposite of the one you describe. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that students matter there far more than they did at the last two "traditional schools" at which I taught. At the for profit, students are valued and actually taught because that's the only way that there will be any sort of "repeat business". At the "traditional" schools, students were/are useful only for the money that they provide to pay for the "illustrious" faculty who are never actually seen by the aforementioned students.
Originally posted by DMCDo you think that academic values just might be thrown away in such a quest? And do you think that these really should be defined as "higher education" schools because of complaints like this? DMC
Might academic values be sacrificed at a for profit? Absolutely. Are academic values sacrificed for money at "traditional" institutions? Absolutely, witness the never-ending stories about athletes receiving preferential treatment in order to remain eligible. On the whole, I'd suggest that DEGREE-granting for profits are likely more honest than "traditionals". When we add certificate granting schools to the mix, the potential for abuse becomes much greater but I'd suggest that limiting access to these programs to the for profits that are degree-granting eliminates that problem while still providing benefits to many more institutions and students.
Realistically, the main objection to the for profits is that they are more honest in their quest for money than are the more traditional schools. Specifically, notice the objections in the article about decreasing funding while increasing the pool of potential recipients. Most schools, in my experience, really don't care if their students are "educated", they only care that they pay their bills and that some of them become successful and thereby spread the name/fame of the school.
"Verhoeven's _Starship Troopers_: Based on the back cover of the book by Robert Heinlein."
Tim, I understand what you're saying. I did not mean to say that traditional schools are not concerned about money at all. And neither did I mean to say that *all* for profits put profit first and education second. I simply feel that when you begin to mix business mentalities with education to the intense degree that for profits often do, the opportunities for abuse and for a largely "unvaluable" degree are too great.
Again I'm not saying all for profit colleges operate this way, but many do in my experience, and the students (viewed first and foremost as "customers") suffer. The owner or the corporation is attempting to squeeze every last dollar they can out of the school(s), so benefits and salaries are not comparable with more traditional institutions, and thus the types of instructors for profits can attract are usually very low quality, people with only a Bachelor degree and "real world" experience. There is also no release time for instructors at all, so no time to relax, prep, study, travel, etc. Books are pre-chosen for courses, and are often *very* poor texts created in India for slave wages.
The grading system at the for profit in question has a very loose grading system which works to basically push low quality students through with a degree who likely would never get one with the same performance at a traditional institution. There are many other problems, but I need to get back to work at my for profit.
Beyond that, I could see both sides dragging their feet for one simple reason: these changes cost money. Serious money. And it's much easier to have these changes (which were probably at least 10 years overdue) after something horrible happens.