Advocacy Groups: California Weak On For-Profit Colleges

Public Advocates Inc., a Californian nonprofit advocacy group, has criticized the state's Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education for its "significant weaknesses" in overseeing for-profit colleges.

The agency's "lax approach" prevents it from fully being able to police the for-profit sector, said Jamienne S. Studley, CEO of Public Advocates Inc.

Erica Perez at California Watch reports that during the joint information hearing of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development, Studley told the lawmakers that the bureau should strengthen its approval process and demand more disclosures from approved institutions.

For-profits nationally enroll the highest share of students who default on their student loans.

Studley said:

"If our goal were to provide low-income neighborhoods and individuals with access to good banking services, we would not count opening more payday lenders as success.

"And so when our goal is increasing opportunity through educational attainment, the chance to go to institutions that graduate less than a quarter of their students, or that succeed in placing only a small number of students in secure jobs in the field for which they are trained, does not count as success."

Studley believes that bureau's jurisdiction that only means unaccredited schools are subject to the full scope of the agency's investigation, complaint and enforcement procedures "leaves many students at risk."

Many schools do not have to follow any of the state's disclosure requirements — which means hundreds of thousands of California students in private institutions are not protected by the bureau, says Studley.

Studley said:

"We strongly encourage the Legislature to closely examine the risks of relying on an external peer review process to effectively replace the state's consumer protection oversight for such a large segment of the private postsecondary sector."

This comes after a series of complaints where the bureau fell, in Studley's opinion, badly short. As reported at the Bay Citizen, at the end of last year, the agency had a backlog of 200 investigations of schools that had been accused of violating state education code.

"One former student of the for-profit Institute of Medical Education told The Bay Citizen that when she complained to the bureau about the school, she was told the agency lacked the staff to investigate the claim."

Debbie Cochrane is the program director for the Institute for College Access and Success and she believes the state's lax oversight system has caused it to become a breeding ground for for-profits.

Cochrane said:

"The combination of relatively weak oversight – including virtually no oversight for a few recent years – and an unusually generous state grant program have made the state an attractive place for for-profit colleges to do business."

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