Why Is the White House Ignoring For-Profit Colleges?

Spurred on by the need to court a waning youth vote, the Obama Administration addressed a concern that has been on many students’ and recent graduates’ minds: The cost of education in America. Calling college presidents from across the country into the Oval Office, President Obama chastised university leaders for their high prices and lack of leadership in the area of cost control and admonished them to rethink the “cost equation” that accompanies higher education.

The take-away message from President Obama’s private meeting with higher-education leaders on Monday was threefold: There needs to be a new sense of urgency on college affordability, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution as policies will have to affect all sectors of higher education, and the country needs innovations and cost-management from colleges and leadership from state legislatures.

That’s according to Thomas J. Snyder, President of Ivy Tech Community College, who participated in the meeting. President Obama and Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, are now in what Mr. Snyder described as listening mode, “but I suspect some pretty substantial proposals will evolve in the next few months,” he said.

Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan got in on the action, lecturing university leadership on the difficulties faced by recent graduates and called on colleges to “clamp down” on education costs. Soros-funded Campus Progress heralded these actions as a “step in the right direction” and praised Obama for his work helping students afford higher education. Obama patted himself on the back for his efforts, saying that his administration would “help more Americans attain a higher education at an affordable price.”

Strangely, though, a few key elements of affordable higher education were left off the table – and out of the meeting room. For-profit schools, which provide low-cost, affordable, useful education to nearly three million students nationwide (a staggering 12% of all students) were not invited. Their absence was more than strange. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the rising cost of not-for-profit education has far out-paced that of for-profit and private education, and students graduating from for-profit colleges rarely find themselves with the hundred-thousand-dollar debt that gradates of not-for-profit schools face after graduation. Even putting aside the other obvious advantages of career colleges, job training for needed job openings in the skilled labor market, for example, for-profit schools appear to have done a decent job of keeping their costs low to meet the needs of their market.

So how does the Obama Administration respond to for-profit success? The Obama Administration, instead of asking for-profit schools how to make not-for-profit schools more cost effective or how to more adequately meet student needs, has taken to focusing on for-profit schools for burdensome regulations — regulations they have as yet refused to impose on not-for-profit schools. Just this year, the Administration pushed through a “Gainful Employment rule” to tighten the reins on for-profit schools, limiting the amount of student loan and grant money for-profit students were eligible for if the school itself could not show a minimum rate of employment for its graduates. At the time, Arne Duncan specifically stated that the reason for imposing the rule was that for-profit schools graduate students with “too much debt and too little earning power.”

Obviously the same could (and should) be said for any higher education. If Occupy Wall Street proved anything to the administration, it was that very notion: Students have too much debt and too little earning power. The merits of such regulation is debatable, especially when such regulation is undertaken because of administration friends on Wall Street, but the administration’s sentiment is eminently understandable.

So why only target for-profit schools? And, moreover, why treat for-profit schools differently, pressing legislation through without the consultation, discussion, debate, or Oval Office brainstorming sessions like not-for-profit and public universities received? If the problem is systemic, shouldn’t the solution also be?

If the problem of student loan debt is so serious — and it is — the administration should not be playing favorites. It should address the problem with the same sort of treatment across the board rather than preserving kid glove treatment for the clearly more liberal public schools. It should be fair treatment for all.

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