Guest Column: Selling fake dreams



Photo courtesy of MCT Campus

Philadelphia Inquirer

No doubt you’ve seen the TV commercials: Enroll in so-and-so college and you, too, can find gainful employment in the lucrative whatever field.

The come-on sounds really nice. But too often it’s just that, an enticement that leaves young people strapped with a college loan debt and very little chance of obtaining a job in their major.

Part of the problem is that the for-profit colleges that typically run such ads are not required to disclose crucial information about their graduation or job-placement rates. As a result, vulnerable students may blindly make education decisions that haunt them financially for years.

To correct that, the Obama administration has proposed new rules that hold for-profit colleges and community colleges more accountable. The “gainful employment” rule sets standards to assess whether career and vocational training programs are adequately preparing students for employment. It also considers whether former students actually earn enough to repay their loans.

The new rule has African-American lawmakers and interests taking opposite sides, which seems odd when you consider that minority students are the most likely victims of enticements to take out loans for college courses that never produce a job.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce has applauded efforts to scuttle the rule, saying it would cost 100,000 jobs. “Gainful Employment unfairly singles out for-profit schools, whose student bodies are comprised of 39 percent minorities,” the chamber said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said the new rule is needed “to protect students from for-profit colleges that have used the American Dream as bait to trap vulnerable students into underperforming schools and saddle them with a lifetime of debt.”

The House has passed a bill that would prevent the Department of Education from imposing the rule. Similar legislation is in the Senate. Lawmakers considering this legislation must stay focused on the greater good, which is the welfare of the students, not the for-profit colleges.

Federal student aid accounts for 90 percent of the revenue for for-profit colleges. But the government estimates about 16 percent of for-profit programs could lose their eligibility for federal loans and grants under the new rules.

That would not be a tragedy. Some for-profits have graduation rates below 10 percent; they should do better or close. Tuition and fees at for-profit colleges are twice the cost at public schools. Their enrollees represent only 12 percent of college students, but 43 percent of loan defaults.

It’s time to rein in these schools, and their deceptive advertising.

The above editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, March 8.