I continue to struggle to try to understand what is really going on in the efforts to at least begin to regulate the for-profit sector in a reasonable way. We need strong regulations if we are going to be able get beyond the stereotype of being the used car salespeople of the higher education system. Too much of this energy seems misdirected. This sentence, for example, (from “Lawmakers hear conflicting reports on for-profit colleges“) sounds plausible even if you remove the word “for profit” : “…colleges may be using unethical recruitment practices and charging too much for degrees while failing to prepare students for jobs.”
I don’t think all schools use unethical recruiting methods, but recruiting abuses, in legacy admissions and sports, to name only two examples, are not uncommon in the public system. The promise of a job, often unsupported by any evidence, has long been a staple of higher education. The for-profits didn’t do anything new, they simply built on what the system had long accepted as common practice. No real regulatory agency is watching recruitment; the public schools can raise tuition as high as they want. No one’s watching that, either. Student debt has long been an endemic problem in a system so reliant on loans and not grants.
We need recruitment regulations that will cover all sorts of potential abuses in all schools, private to public, from athletic bribes, to high pressure sales techniques, to legacy admissions and the lack of diversity. We need a system of public subsidy– and a generous loan forgiveness program– to eliminate student debt. Schools that receive public money should not be able to waste so much of it on administrative salaries and expensive marketing programs. We need some sort of public discussion about the purposes of higher education and the limits of capitalism. No school should be able to promise the jobs that only public policy can deliver.