Transparency is key.
For-profit colleges have been the regular recipients of strong criticism, and not without just cause. Corinthian Colleges, a major for-profit college chain that collapsed after being charged with fraudulent marketing practices, left tens of thousands of students stranded with useless credits and piles of debt. The chain’s catastrophic failure, and others like it, have become touchstones for those who cry out against the inherent malignancy of for-profit colleges.
Complaints against for-profit malpractice follow a familiar course: For-profit colleges target low-income students with aggressive marketing strategies, promise them that a degree in x, y, or z will lead to a gleaming career, guzzle their federal loan money, and then leave them out to dry. Once enrolled, with no way out, students realize that the program they were ushered into is not worthwhile, that they can’t afford it (as they’d been assured), or that they simply don’t have the time to juggle a full-time job, coursework, and duties at home. With a six-year graduation rate of a mere 26 percent at for-profit institutions and staggering rates of loan default, the numbers are bleak.
The Obama administration took all this as a directive to crack down on for-profits, which, on the whole, truly did need a greater standard of accountability. But by focusing solely on for-profits, the former administration did not touch the many nonprofit institutions that also have dismal graduation and default rates. In order to level the playing field, the Trump administration recently called off that effort. However, rather than letting for-profit and nonprofit colleges alike vacuum up federal dollars while providing little in return, the administration and Congress should hold all colleges accountable. At minimum, prospective students should have easy access to accurate information about how much debt they will have when they graduate and how much graduates of each school and program typically earn.