Accentuate for-profit positives, eliminate negatives

April 25, 2013

US policymakers should not overlook the positive aspects of for-profit colleges, a study has argued.

The report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a right- leaning thinktank based in New York, says that politicians - and journalists - are too quick to highlight for-profits’ poor graduation levels, higher loan default rates and patchy graduate employment record, while overlooking their strengths.

“Because for-profit colleges are not bound to the often-inflexible agendas of tenured faculty, alumni, or trustees, they can more easily adapt course offerings to current labor demand,” the report argues.

It says that while Hispanics and African-Americans respectively constitute 11.5 and 13 per cent of all students in public higher education, this increases to 15 and 22 per cent in the for-profit sector. Some 65 per cent of for-profit students are aged 25 and older compared with much smaller percentages at public colleges, The Unacknowledged Value of For-Profit Education adds.

“For-profits serve these students well because students can enroll in as many courses as their other commitments will allow,” it adds. “For-profits…do not offer liberal-arts programs but rather teach technical skills for specific fields - and thus can quickly train students whose time is more limited.”

The thinktank is calling on the federal government to “preserve the good aspects of for-profit colleges while minimizing the bad ones”.

“Policymakers should change the federal student-loan program so that substandard institutions are hard-pressed to stay in business. To ensure that its investment in higher education is worthwhile, the government should apply any such regulation to all sectors of the…industry, be it for-profit, nonprofit, public, or private,” the report concludes.

It adds that the ultimate goal should be an approach that “treats for profit and nonprofit colleges identically” to ensure that all higher education consumers are more cautious about their investments.

“That would make it easier for students to choose the programs that best suit their circumstances and that provide the skills that they need to prosper,” it says.

chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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