In a bid to reduce the pummelling they've been taking in the press on account of their business practices, private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs) have concocted a new PR push that they hope will serve to restore them in the public's eyes. "A for-profit-college trade group has released standards of conduct that it hopes will become a Better Business Bureau-style 'seal of approval' for colleges that sign them, giving assurance and consumer protection to students," reports a September 15, 2011 Inside Higher Ed article.
There's some hope, however, that this initiative involves something more than image manipulation. It has won support among politicians who had previously been quite outspoken with respect to the perceived abuses of for-profit higher education sector.
The stand-out item on the new PSCU code of conduct is a 21-day trial period to which new students are entitled in order to determine whether the school and the program are a proper fit.
Industry participants have been slow to cotton to the new code of conduct. The Inside Higher Ed article estimates that only some "17 percent of the for-profit sector's enrollments have signed the standards." But among that 17 percent are some pretty noteworthy players, including industry giant Kaplan University and Career Education Corporation, which operates some 80 postsecondary education institutions.
Some of the more reticent PSCUs include University of Phoenix and Capella University. Their reticence does not necessarily signal refusal but simply a wait-and-see attitude. The Inside Higher Ed article reports that industry experts will see compliance to the new code of conduct come in waves, as companies witness other companies beginning to adhere to it.
Should PSCUs adhere to it in good faith, the code could bring the entire industry a long way toward necessary reform, as the stipulations included in it targets various long-standing shortcomings. "The codes of conduct hit several areas that have been problematic for some for-profits," the Inside Higher Ed article reports, "such as the ban on incentive compensation and a required disclosure to students of information about transferability of credit and loan counseling."
It'll be interesting to see if reform really does take hold in the for-profit higher education industry. A lot is riding on the possibility that it will. Many who would otherwise have dim career prospects rely on PSCUs as a means of achieving their dreams and aspiration.