As another week of for-profit education news recedes into memory, we pause to reflect on the impressions with which it has left us.
Opinion-maker Joe Nocera argues in his recent New York Times piece that private sector colleges and universities are vitally necessary. "The shadow of scandal has, in turn, done a lot to color the way the larger society thinks about the industry," Nocera admits, but this serves to obscure the fact that, given the conditions of today's public, private nonprofit, and community colleges, "[t]he schools most capable of meeting the country’s growing education needs are the for-profits."
Nocera further observes that "the traditional university isn’t really set up to educate a person who has a full-time job." Career colleges can better accommodate this market segment. "The for-profits can offer class times that are convenient for students, rather than for professors. They can offer online classes, which many traditional universities have been reluctant — or unable — to dive into."
Of course, if private sector colleges and universities wish to ascend to this level of importance, they have some image-burnishing work to do. To this end, many schools have adopted a self-devised code of conduct to govern their practices going forward. "The standards come from a newly formed Foundation for Educational Success, itself an offshoot of the Coalition for Educational Success, a consortium of for-profit colleges," a September 13, 2011 Washington Post article reports. "A group of schools representing 17 percent of the sector have signed on to the standards document. The group includes Kaplan Higher Education, part of The Washington Post Company."
The code of conduct covers certain areas that had proven troublesome to career colleges in the past when it came to perceptions and opinions. These areas include admissions and student-recruiting practices, matriculation rates, and employment prospects upon graduation.
Perhaps this new code of conduct will also contribute something to tamping down loan default rates among for-profit students past and present, which are some of the highest among any postsecondary education population. A September 13, 2011 NextStudent blog post reports that "borrowers who attended for-profit colleges, which enroll only about 10 percent of all undergraduate students, account for almost half of all student loan defaults."
Getting these numbers reduced -- without a bunch of accounting legerdemain -- should be career colleges' first order of business. Any other benefits, including that of a refreshed reputation, will follow from this and other practical improvements. As with most things, we'll just have to wait and see if the private for-profit higher education sector will rise to the occasion.