Behind the Obama Administration’s effort to cut off federal aid to non-elite colleges that have profit motives.
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At a June 2010 Congressional hearing, criticism was leveled at career colleges for using "TV advertisements, billboards, phone solicitation, [and] web marketing" to promote their institutions. According to Senator Harkin, "[advertising] spending by a for-profit school system radically [sets it] apart from other [not-for-profit] colleges."
Career colleges counter that they do not have the monopoly inherent in being a state university nor do they enjoy the free marketing available from the promotion of big-time athletic programs such as football and basketball that are resident in public universities and private colleges.
The NPRM focused on a two-part test to ascertain an institution’s future eligibility for federal student aid. These are student debt-to-income ratios and loan repayment rates. Schools not meeting the minimum thresholds of the two tests would be deemed as not having adequately prepared students for “gainful employment” and would be cut-off from receiving federal student aid dollars.
This proposed rule to determine federal aid eligibility would apply only to career colleges. Career colleges utilizing federal student aid “benefit from billions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers,” argues Education Secretary Arne Duncan and therefore ought to meet additional burdens not borne by public universities and private colleges.
The APSCU observes that if the same rule were applied to public universities and private colleges then it would severely restrict aid to medical school students. Students attending dental and law schools and other schools with high enrollment costs would also be affected.
According to the APSCU, 9% of nurses and 54% of allied health workers who graduated in 2009 attended career colleges. The trade association argues that drastically cutting back federal aid opportunities to these schools could exacerbate acute health care worker shortages.
There is a related matter that dramatically differentiates for-profit and not-for-profit colleges. Each state pours hundreds of millions of dollars into its public institutions. Additionally, public institutions and private, not-for-profit schools operate on a tax-exempt basis. In contrast, career colleges do not receive direct government subsidies and instead, pay millions of dollars of taxes into federal, state and local governments.
An analysis prepared by Professor Bradford Cornell of the California Institute of Technology on behalf of an advocacy group representing career colleges compared the costs borne by taxpayers by students attending for-profit and not-for-profit colleges.
According to Cornell’s report, “where only direct costs to taxpayers are considered, for-profit 2-year institutions produce graduates at a cost to taxpayers that is $25,546 lower on a per student basis than the public 2-year institutions [emphasis added].” The difference is more dramatic when one factors in tax revenues paid by for-profit schools and the absence of tax revenue from not-for-profit schools.
This assault on career colleges has pit influential groups and 80 members of Congress of both political parties against the Obama Administration. They note that career college students are heavily female and minority and changes to financial aid rules would disproportionately disadvantage them.
According to the Imagine America Foundation, 43% of students at career colleges are minority and 65% are female. Also, thirty-nine percent of degrees awarded at career colleges went to minorities, which is twice the rate at public institutions (20%) and more than double the rate at private colleges (17%).
Reducing access to federal student aid to those who enroll in career colleges would harm an important political Democrat constituency. In a letter addressed to Harkin, one liberal group of politicians urged the Iowa Senator to abandon his “imbalanced” approach to restricting federal aid to career colleges.
The Department of Education is expected to issue new federal student aid rules on November 1 that would take effect next year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article inadvertently identified Kaplan University as one of the institutions cited in GAO Report (GAO-10-948T). The institution was actually Kaplan College. We regret the error.
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