For-profit colleges

Education Department raises hackles over clock hour definition

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The Education Department's take on the definition of "clock hour" programs is too broad and could unfairly cut into federal aid, say a Texas state agency and for-profits.

Using Big Data to Predict Online Student Success

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An ambitious research project is proving the payoffs of predictive analytics in higher ed, and early findings overturn conventional wisdom about student success.

Education Department Admits Flawed Data in Gainful Employment Analysis

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The Department of Education admits failing to include black students in its calculation of loan repayment rates in run-up to gainful employment. The mistake will fuel for-profit claims of unfair treatment by feds.

Is Romney Right about Full Sail University?

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Mitt Romney singled out the university while praising for-profits as cost-effective. Full Sail graduates 78 percent of its students, but is it really the better value Romney suggested?

Kaplan CEO's book takes on higher ed's incentive system

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Andrew S. Rosen, Kaplan's CEO, takes on the traditional view of college with his debut book, arguing that higher education needs a "reboot" to meet America's goals.

Community college enrollment growth ends

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Community college enrollment drops slightly, but two-year institutions remain crowded after years of record growth.

Texas business group's billboard campaign on completion rates

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Texas Association of Business goes after community college graduation rates with a campaign that was influenced by Complete College America.

For-profits lag behind other colleges in student outcomes

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New research attempts to better compare the performance of for-profit colleges with nonprofits by controlling for differences in student populations, with largely negative results for the industry.

ITT's federal compliance scramble differs from Corinthian's shut down

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ITT's missed deadline with the Education Department prompts comparisons to Corinthian Colleges. But ITT is on firmer ground.

Essay questions use of anecdotal stories in for-profit debate

There is a pattern of dishonesty taking place in some of the criticism of for-profit colleges. Too frequently, opponents of the sector take advantage of students and use an individual as a “straw man” to try to prove a point about student debt and tuition.  

It is an attack by anecdote. Or more precisely, attack by false and partial anecdote.

The latest example is a filing from the Education Trust on the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed “gainful employment” (GE) rule. The rule would impose strict loan default and debt-to-earnings standards on private-sector colleges that would close the door to higher education opportunities for hundreds of thousands of minority and low-income students. 

In their filing, the Education Trust references by first name an anonymous student from Kaplan University, using a quote from her as firsthand evidence of someone allegedly burdened by debt because of high tuition. 

We know the student’s full story -- and, not surprisingly, the allegation is untrue. The quote claims that “tuition … ate up” the student’s financial aid.  In reality, Kaplan University’s average actual cost is less than most private, nonprofit colleges and many tax-supported public institutions. This student came to Kaplan with significant debt incurred elsewhere -- including a nonprofit institution whose tuition is significantly greater than ours. 

It was also alleged that we “maxed out her loans.” In reality the Education Department requires institutions to allow students to borrow up to the maximum amount for which they qualify. To cover personal expenses, students can take on debt far in excess of what is needed for tuition. Under the law, we cannot limit this. Particularly in non-residential, adult-serving institutions, these dollars do not stay with us -- the funds go to the student to cover his or her living expenses. Student academic success, such as the need to repeat failed courses, will also impact total cost and debt.

Sometimes, purveyors of these testimonials disclose full names. When a group calling themselves the “Young Invincibles” took to Capitol Hill last month to talk about student debt, it brought along 28-year-old Dymond Blackmon, who said he had incurred $90,000 in debt from pursuing an associate degree. Flanked by four U.S. senators, he said he did not make enough money to pay back loans from his photography program. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the institution Blackmon attended had tuition and fees of $14,000 a year. Clearly, there’s more to the story than the tuition charged by his institution.

For most students, completing college takes a lot of work and often does not go as planned. Some students take on debt at multiple institutions, need to repeat courses extending their course of study, or borrow more than needed. These details are rarely acknowledged, and those that put the spotlight on these individuals know the schools are prohibited by law from discussing a student’s details and, to protect our students, we are loath to do so.

Student loan debt is a problem. But solving it will require more than finger-pointing.

Policy should permit schools to limit loans for a particular course of study, helping us align debt with expected earnings in the field. College can be made more affordable if student loans are managed, in part, by people who share a big stake in seeing their students succeed -- the schools in which they enroll. 

Using misleading anecdotes may be a clever way to make an argument, but it doesn’t help illuminate the issue. Permitting colleges to help manage borrowing is the real issue here, and it is no straw man. 

Wade Dyke is president of Kaplan University.

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