Harkin Lambastes For-Profit Recruiting; GAO Defends Report on the Colleges

February 9, 2011

Another day, another flurry of activity related to federal regulation of for-profit colleges. The Government Accountability Office announced Tuesday that an internal investigation into its August report on for-profit institutions had concluded that the office had shown "no bias or conflict of interest" in producing the report, which was released months later with numerous corrections. Advocates for the colleges have gone so far as to sue the agency for "professional malpractice," but the GAO inquiry concedes only that "there were process, supervisory and analytical weaknesses that led to errors and missing context" that were corrected in the followup report. Officials at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities said they were "extremely disappointed" by the agency's statement and by its failure to make the internal report public. “The fox is not only guarding the henhouse, he’s writing reviews about his own performance,” said Harris Miller, the group's president. “Forgive us if we are not convinced.”

Meanwhile, in a speech on the Senate floor late Monday, Senator Tom Harkin laid out a new series of accusations about the recruiting practices of for-profit colleges. Citing documents collected as part of his committee's investigation into the sector, he discussed comments in which admissions officials at Kaplan University and ITT urge recruiters to capitalize on students' "pain" and "fears" about their futures to encourage them to enroll. “Rather than offering students a better life, these types of strong-arm, emotionally abusive tactics are all too typical of schools that have little or no interest in providing students the academic help and support they need to succeed," Harkin said. "When these types of deceptive and exploitative tactics are used to enroll students, we should not be surprised to see high drop out and high default rates as a result.”

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