I keep mulling over the sometimes deserved bad reputation of the proprietary education sector where I work. It’s not easy to get the facts straight. Our students have loan default rates that are significantly higher than other kinds of institutions. (You can see a chart with the numbers, here.) That’s a serious problem. Administrators, like administrators everywhere, work the numbers to make their schools look better. That’s not likely to change.
Default rates are high and going up everywhere, as are tuition and fees, and we still have an unemployment rate of nearly 10%. I do think that the costs of education ought to be tightly regulated, but I don’t know how to figure in the premium you pay for the ability to study from home. Eventually, the for-profits will have to compete with the community colleges and other public institutions for these ‘at home students’ and the for-profits will be forced to lower their prices.
That’s long term and it doesn’t help students now, myself included (my loans are from public schools). If the economy were stronger and so the deficit smoke screen less effective, I think there would be increasing pressure for some sort of relief program for student debt. After all, far more students in default went to school in the public sector. (We have more in default proportionately, but fewer in absolute numbers.) That’s not likely to happen soon either.
What really bothers me is that I don’t feel the public schools have much moral ground for their disdain of the for profits. It’s hard to see the public sector as any more or less exploitative than the private sector. Can we say, for example, that the public sectors’ sometimes wasteful use of public money on president’s salaries or multimillion dollar athletic programs, is any more or less corrupt than the private sectors’ sometimes ugly recruitment policies and high costs?