Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Federal Government Should Stop Bankrolling the For-Profit College Industry

Floyd Norris recently wrote a mild but provocative article in the New York Times that focused on ITT Educational Services, a for-profit corporation that offers post-secondary education programs in 48 states. Norris reported that ITT students pay an average cost of $48,000 in tuition and fees to receive a two-year associate's degree in business administration.

Of course students can obtain a two-year associate's degree from a public community college for a fraction of that cost. One would think the federal government would develop policies to encourage students to attend reasonably priced community colleges instead of supporting the for-profit college industry.

As has been widely reported, for-profit colleges enroll about 10 percent of all post-secondary students but get about 25 percent of the federal student-aid money. According to Norris, the federal government guaranteed nearly $24 billion in loans for students attending for-profit schools in 2010-2011 and  distributed nearly $9 billion in grants that went to for-profit institutions.

Without question, most of the for-profit colleges could not exist without federal student-aid money.  For example, in 2011, ITT received 89 percent of its revenues from the federal government in the form of student loans and grants. (Norris, 2012, p. B7)  Meanwhile, state and local-government are drastically cutting their financial support for public colleges and universities.

In my opinion, the federal government should stop funding the for-profit colleges altogether and redirect the money toward public community colleges.  Unfortunately, such a reform is not coming any time soon.  The for-profits pay highly effective lobbyists to protect their interests (Kirkham, 2012), and they make strategic political contributions to key legislators in Washington (Kirkham, 2011).

So this is the situation. Billions of federal dollars flow each year into the coffers of for-profit schools and colleges that educate about 10 percent of the nation's post-secondary students and account for about half of all the student-loan defaults (Kirkham, 2012). Until Congress stops subsidizing the for-profit colleges industry, we will never solve the student-loan crisis, which is growing worse with each passing year.

Kirkham, C. (2012, February 3). Auction 2012: For-profit colleges win when lobbying blitz weakens regs. Huffington Post.

Kirkham, C. (2011, July 29). John Boehner backed deregulation of online learning, leading to explosive growth at for-profit colleges. Huffington Post.

Norris, F. (2012, May 25). Colleges for profit are growing, with U.S. aid. New York Times, p. B1.

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