Committee tasked with creating standards for for-profit colleges folds under industry pressure

2013-03-24T06:00:00Z Committee tasked with creating standards for for-profit colleges folds under industry pressureDAN SIMMONS | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6136

The effort to hold Wisconsin for-profit colleges accountable for graduation and employment outcomes was scuttled last week after strong opposition from the schools and influential lawmakers.

The Educational Approval Board, which decides whether for-profit colleges can operate in the state, shut down a committee charged with developing standards for them.

The committee had met just once, on Feb. 22, a meeting highlighted by testimony opposing the standards by representatives from numerous for-profit colleges.

Earlier that month, Gov. Scott Walker replaced three members of the seven-member approval board. There is one vacancy.

Then on March 12, Rep. Steve Nass, chairman of the Assembly higher education committee, wrote in an email to the approval board that it should suspend the committee and work "in a more cooperative atmosphere" with the schools.

"I believe this process is very premature," Rep. Nass wrote.

He called the regulation efforts — which would have required the colleges to show that at least 60 percent of students who started programs finished and got jobs in their fields — well-intentioned but needing more study and input.

Some national observers took a different view, noting that similar measures throughout the country typically meet the same fate against the well-funded for-profit college industry.

"The basic narrative is pretty much the same," said Barmak Nassirian, a Washington, D.C. independent education policy analyst who's studied for-profit colleges for two decades. "The industry obviously put a full-court press on and killed the effort."

Major economic consequences

For-profit colleges told the board last month the accountability standards were unreasonable.

"You are proposing performance expectations that very few of your own public institutions could meet," said Vickie Schray, a senior vice president at Bridgepoint Education, parent company of Ashford University and University of the Rockies.

David Dies, the executive secretary of the EAB, said it's beside the point. EAB doesn't oversee public schools and Dies said the economic consequences of students not succeeding at for-profit schools can be far more dire since students tend to take on much bigger debt loads. A federal report last August looked at 30 for-profit higher education companies and found they charge students up to four times the cost for some programs as publicly funded community colleges, resulting in heavy debt loads and spotty graduation and job placement outcomes.

"Those individuals become a drag on the state's economy," Dies said.

In his email, Nass cited the concerns of colleges, saying the new measures came unexpectedly and without adequate input. He also referenced Walker's new appointments to the EAB.

Governor's new appointees

In early February, the governor announced three new appointees — Robert Hein of Janesville, a UW-Rock County math professor, William Roden of Grafton, an educational consultant, and Katie Thiry of Prescott, an online college teacher.

Walker's move came unexpectedly but is not uncommon, Dies said. Board members serve at the governor's discretion and governors commonly swap in new appointees during their first term. Walker's office issued a statement on the appointments Friday, saying it "has been working for some time to fill the positions with a diverse blend of representation within the educational sphere, so all can come together and address the big issues facing higher education."

"I think it's simply coincidence," Dies said of the timing. "I don't think it's anything Machiavellian."

Practically, it meant that three of the board members who had backed the accountability measures when they were being proposed last fall are now gone, replaced by members new to the issue.

"It became apparent it might not be the best time to bring these issues forward," Dies said.

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(14) Comments

  1. the_book_girl
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    the_book_girl - March 29, 2013 1:05 am
    I am a former employee of 2 for-profit schools in financial aid. These are a FEW of the frauds I was encouraged to commit on a daily basis just to get loan and grant $$$ coming in:
    1. Students' FAFSA applications fraudulently filled out to make them eligible for more money.
    2. Loan applications and Mater Promissory Notes for Federal loans routinely eigned by employees, often without students or parents knowledge.
    3. Instructors fired who refused to pass students on with A or B grades who were not even attending classes, or fired for trying to drop students who were not attending classes.
    4. Any employee who spoke out against the school's fraudulent practices were fired and black-listed in the community.
    5. Reports made to the Dept. of Education as far back as five years ago regarding this fraud activity were totally ignored or reported to the corporate HQ and the reporting employee was fired.
    6. These schools accept ANYONE who is breathing and can qualify for a Federal loan. I mean ANYONE.

    They all need to be shut down - 100 billion of Federal taxpayer $$$ thrown away each year. YOU SHOULD ALL BE OUTRAGED!
  2. Crow Barr
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    Crow Barr - March 25, 2013 8:55 am
    Don't you realize, Mr. S. Walker is a registered student at one of these on-line, buy-a-degree colleges and maybe Tonette is busy at home cranking out the minimal course work and Gov. Scott Walker will have his college degree!
    Phew, Phew, Liberty U.
  3. Mr Mellow
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    Mr Mellow - March 24, 2013 5:39 pm
    Walker and the WIS GOP talk non-stop about how standards need to be raised for public schools and public teachers, and how they must be held accountable.

    But when it comes to private schools and private teachers, Walker & the boys don't see any need for standards and accountability, even when they use vouchers to give them taxpayer money diverted from public schools and public education.

    Standards and Accountability for some, but not for all.

    WI GOP leaders are shameless, corrupt, lying scoundrels, hypocrites, and thieves.
  4. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - March 24, 2013 2:06 pm
    Here is some more money to follow. WEAC has spent over 20 million dollars in the last ten years on lobbying and campaign contributions, solely to the Dem Party and its candidates. Don't act holier than thou. Both parties are bloated with special interest cash.
    To suggest otherwise is dishonest.
  5. OnWisco1
    Report Abuse
    OnWisco1 - March 24, 2013 11:06 am
    High costs, easy loans and terrible results. Why is nobody talking about the trusting kids that are being ripped off by for-profit schools? These school are disgusting - and so are the legislatures that prop them up.
  6. fluteplayer
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    fluteplayer - March 24, 2013 9:21 am
    So Steve Nass, who closely monitors every move made by the UW, especially the Madison campus, can't stomach the idea of for-profit colleges being held accountable by the state agency that approves their operation. Hm. Sounds like voucher schools, doesn't it? If you're for profit (and maybe you contributed to my campaign), you're not accountable, even if you ruin people's lives. If you're public, you're subject to my every whim and fancy, even though the state now funds only 18% of the UW-Madison budget.

    Disgusting Republican behavior and rule.
  7. Stuck In The Middle With You
    Report Abuse
    Stuck In The Middle With You - March 24, 2013 8:42 am
    And now a word from your corporate sponsors. "Do not try to resist us, We are in control."
  8. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - March 24, 2013 8:23 am
    Oh we've got trouble! Right here in River City!
  9. badger313
    Report Abuse
    badger313 - March 24, 2013 8:17 am
    Should be noted though that this is their choice to make, which they do for a variety of reasons. No one is telling them that there are high-paying jobs awaiting in the theater. The same may not be true in the case of for-profit colleges.

    Census data make it very clear that college grads overall have higher earnings.
  10. epic
    Report Abuse
    epic - March 24, 2013 7:57 am
    The committee should have studied how many Union and Badger cab drivers have advanced degrees from UW-Madison. In my former career as a state manager, I hired several lower level clerks that had minimally four-year degrees and some with advanced degrees (archeology, library science, fine arts, etc.). I can't recall placing an engineering, math or science graduate in similarly low paying positions. While I think standards vary widely in the so-called "for profit" colleges, public and main line private institutions graduate an excessive amount of people into a jobs black hole. Trying to build a life long career on a theater degree is a fool's errand.
  11. badger313
    Report Abuse
    badger313 - March 24, 2013 7:26 am
    "Then on March 12, Rep. Steve Nass, chairman of the Assembly higher education committee, wrote in an email to the approval board that it should suspend the committee and work "in a more cooperative atmosphere" with the schools."

    Is this the same Steve Nass who has been crusading to make UW more accountable? His attitude toward UW has been decidedly antagonistic rather than cooperative.
  12. EnuMPowers
    Report Abuse
    EnuMPowers - March 24, 2013 7:10 am
    Is this where we pretend the UW is a non-profit? Only a narrow definition would support that. So, here is a crazy idea - if you don't think these are good schools, then don't go. Quit asking the government to take care of you.

    BTW - what is the graduation and placement rate in the fields of women's studies and african-american studies?
  13. athabasca
    Report Abuse
    athabasca - March 24, 2013 6:33 am
    "Practically, it meant that three of the board members who had backed the accountability measures when they were being proposed last fall are now gone, replaced by members new to the issue."

    Coincidence, my eye.

    Accountability for thee, but not for me....
  14. bluffsinview
    Report Abuse
    bluffsinview - March 24, 2013 6:33 am
    When will Walker's supporters finally see him for what he is? He can be bought for a dime, as can his faithful toadies like Rep. Nass. This is just another example of the corruption that has blossomed since Walker was elected. For-profit voucher schools that take from our good public schools, for-profit colleges that lure students with their misleading, expensive advertising. They're getting all sorts of favors from this administration. Follow the money. Walker doesn't give one hoot about Wisconsin or its citizens.

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