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D.C. Agency's Tuition Reimbursement Program Criticized

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s tuition reimbursement program, which pays for employees to take college-level courses, has garnered some criticism from an Iowa senator who said the agency doesn’t provide students with enough information about college options. WMATA -- which is funded by the federal government, the District of Columbia, and state and local jurisdictions -- spent almost $500,000 on the program in fiscal year 2010, according to The Washington Times.

“I am increasingly concerned that many government agencies, not just WMATA, are using taxpayer dollars to send students to low-quality, high-cost for-profit colleges with terrible student outcomes,” said Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, in a statement. “Most troubling is that these agencies do not provide students with sufficient information to protect themselves or perform adequate due diligence regarding the schools’ value.”

According to The Washington Times, which received documents about the program from an open records request, many WMATA employees opted to take courses at for-profit institutions, such as the University of Phoenix and Strayer University. Employees also took courses at some area institutions, such as the University of Maryland University College and Prince George's County College.

The documents also revealed that some employees took courses with no apparent professional correlation -- on video games, black history and parenting, for example.

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Justice Dept. Investigates Universal Technical Institute

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Universal Technical Institute over a former employee's complaint about potential violations of rules prohibiting incentive compensation in student recruiting as well as other potential violations, according to a corporate filing. The for-profit, which specializes in automotive technician training, also disclosed that the same former employee has claimed to have been subjected to retaliation by the company for being a whistleblower. The company said the employee was terminated for performance rather than for any retaliatory reason.

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Proposed House budget would preserve funding for financial aid

A House of Representatives budget proposal for 2013 would make no cuts to major financial aid programs, agreeing with a Senate version approved last month.

More Accreditation Problems for Ashford U.

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools last week gave Ashford University one month to prepare a report demonstrating the for-profit university's compliance with the commission's criteria for accreditation, according to a corporate filing by the university's parent company, Bridgepoint Education. Ashford last week had its bid rejected for accreditation with another regional accreditor, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which found the university lacking in several areas, including low numbers of full-time faculty, high student dropout rates and questions about academic rigor.

Ashford had sought to change its accreditation status in part because the Higher Learning Commission has required that the university demonstrate a "substantial presence" in the region. Now Ashford must respond to a range of questions from the commission that stem from the critical finding from WASC. After submitting the report, the commission will conduct a site visit sometime before a mid-October.

Academy of Art University Hit with Recruitment Suit

Four former student recruiters have filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, claiming that the for-profit institution used illegal incentives to recruit students, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The university has denied those claims, arguing that it complied with federal policies. A U.S. district court judge ruled last month that the case could proceed.

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For-Profit UniversityNow Buys Nonprofit Patten U.

The parent company of competency-based New Charter University is today announcing that it has bought Patten University, a regionally accredited nonprofit institution in California. UniversityNow, Inc., which introduced New Charter as a low-cost higher education provider that awards credit for what students prove they know and can do, said in a news release that its purchase of Patten would allow it to offer four-year degrees for roughly $10,000. Patten has hired Janet Holmgren, the longtime president of Mills College, also in Oakland, as its president.

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Western Accreditor Denies Ashford U. Bid for Accreditation

Bridgepoint Education announced today that the senior college commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges had denied its bid for initial accreditation for Ashford University, the for-profit company's highest-profile institution. Ashford remains accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, but it had sought accreditation in the West -- where Bridgepoint is headquartered -- in part because of the Higher Learning Commission's increasingly chilly treatment of for-profit institutions.

Bridgepoint said that Ashford would both appeal the Western accreditor's decision and reapply for initial accreditation.

WASC's review of Ashford, which the accreditor is due to release later today, had been highly watched, especially because Congressional critics of the for-profit sector had sought to make fast-growing Ashford a poster child for how -- in their eyes -- some institutions have manipulated the accreditation system.

Details of why the Western accreditor denied Ashford's accreditation will be available later today. Follow Inside Higher Ed for continuing coverage.

 

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New (But Familiar) Face at Career College Group

WASHINGTION -- The housecleaning continues at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities -- but the newest addition to the senior management team of the for-profit-college group is a familiar name in higher ed policy circles. Sally Stroup, whose résumé includes a stint at the U.S. Education Department as well as a long career as a senior Congressional aide (plus time as a lobbyist for the Apollo Group), was named Thursday as executive vice president for government relations and legal counsel at the trade association. (She has since been senior vice president and deputy general counsel at Scantron Corp., a technology company.)

Stroup's political experience has all been with Republican politicians, and her appointment means that APSCU, within a year, will have undergone a partisan transformation in its top two spots. Stroup replaces Brian Moran, a former Democratic state delegate from Virginia and chair of the state Democratic Party, and the association's president and CEO, Steve Gunderson, a former Republican Congressman, replaced Harris Miller, a former U.S. Senate candidate in Virginia.

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Study finds wage disadvantage for those starting at for-profits

Study compares earnings outcomes of those who started in certificate or associate programs at for-profit and nonprofit institutions.

New For-Profit Classification System

The Institute for Higher Education Policy has devised a new classification system to measure the performance and characteristics of for-profit colleges and universities. The framework is an attempt to look at for-profits in a less monolithic way, said Michelle Asha Cooper, the institute's president, and also to be "more outcomes-specific" when tracking the sector. One key measure is a look at markets where for-profits have expanded their operations, and the relative affluence of those markets. Parts of California, for example, have seen rapid growth, according to the system's accompanying report.

The target audience for the framework is lawmakers, Cooper said, adding that it could be used to help inform state-level policies. However, Cooper said findings gleaned from the system are likely to be complex and difficult to generalize. "It doesn't put institutions in neat little buckets," she said.

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