As another week of news in the for-profit higher education industry drops below the horizon, we pause to consider events in the waning light.
The latest scuttlebutt in the biz concerns the relationship of private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs) to the veterans' benefits pipeline – a relationship that seems to be cozy, indeed.
Eight PSCUs led the pack in the benefits scramble, with University of Phoenix drawing the lion's share. It alone claimed $ 1 billion of this money.
These profits came courtesy of a loophole in rules governing the disbursement of federal funds for postsecondary education. "The so-called '90/10 rule' limits for-profit colleges to getting no more than 90 percent of their revenue from the government," reports a September 22, 2011 San Francisco Chronicle article. "Veterans' and military tuition programs are excluded from the cap, and the colleges have aggressively recruited beneficiaries."
Lawmakers have thus been toying with the idea of modifying the rules so as to include veteran's benefits in the category of federal funds.
PSCUs have also been taking heat for other practices. This led to certain internal reforms among several schools, including such heavy hitters as University of Phoenix and Kaplan University. This reform comes in the guise of a self-imposed code of conduct, which industry critics believe falls woefully short of the mark. "The coalition's standards will address only a tiny portion of these failings – the colleges’ recruitment and enrollment practices," a September 22, 2011 article at the Center for American Progress blog points out. "And by emphasizing information disclosure without a concurrent focus on increasing quality, the standards promote the notion that it is the student’s responsibility to avoid poor-quality programs, not the colleges’ responsibility to provide good ones."
Whether a step in the right direction or mere window-dressing, these reforms suggest that a general spirit of progress is in the air. The economic conditions under which most Americans live these days has whetted their appetites for a new social compact, one in which everyone gets a fair shake and no one gets shaken down. Perhaps PSCUs have seen which way the winds are blowing, or perhaps not. What they must realize, however, is that there's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and if the citizenry cotton to the idea that the status quo of double-talk, obfuscatory blarney, and swindling isn't working out, then PSCUs would be wise to mend their ways in order to avoid going the way of the dodo.