The Brookings Institution published a report this week calling attention to the for-profit college system's enormous abuses. "For-profit colleges have a long history of engaging in manipulative behavior to preserve the flow of [federal money] to their schools while providing their students with a poor education," authorsAirel Gelrud Shiro and Richard Reeves wrote.
In this report (and in an earlier paper released last November), Brookings researchers ticked off a litany of problems in the for-profit college industry:
- The for-profits only enroll 10 percent of postsecondary students, "but they account for half of all student-loan defaults."
- For profit-schools are about four times more expensive than community colleges.
- Black and Latino are overrepresented in this expensive college sector. Although they make up less than a third of all college students, "they represent nearly half of all who attend for-profit colleges."
- Black students who take out student loans to attend a for-profit have very high default rates. "Almost 60 percent of Black students who took on student debt to attend a for-profit school in 2004 defaulted on their loans by 2016 . . ."
- Research suggests a for-profit college education may be no better than no college at all. "Students may even incur net losses from for-profit attendance when debt is factored in."
OK, I'm convinced--the for-profit colleges are bad boys. In fact, I was convinced back in 2012, when Senator Tom Harkin's committee released a scathing report on the for-profit college industry.
But what are we going to do about it?
Brookings researchers recommend more effective federal regulations. For example, Brookings wants to reinstate the "gainful employment" rule that the Obama administration introduced. Colleges whose students don't reach a certain debt-to-employment ratio would lose federal funds. And it wants a more transparent "College Scoreboard" for reporting the for-profits' student outcomes.
But let's face facts. Trying to reform the for-profit college industry is like trying to teach wild hogs to dance. It ain't happening.
Postsecondary education should be inexpensive, and it should lead to good jobs. Under that standard of measurement, the for-profits have failed.
So why doesn't Congress just shut them down?
Or failing that, why doesn't Congress at least allow the naive people who took out student loans to attend overpriced for-profit colleges and didn't benefit to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy?
How could anyone object to such a simple avenue of relief for the countless victims of the for-profit college scandal?
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. For-Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success. 112 Congress, 2d Session, July 30, 2012.