A damning new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) alleges that several for-profit colleges are accepting bogus diplomas and substandard work from undercover investigators posing as students, writes Daniel de Vise at the Washington Post.
The for-profit higher education sector maintains that the academic standards of private-sector institutions are on par with their not-for-profit public counterparts, but this report completely undermines that.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, instigated the investigation, proclaims the results:
"The findings of this report underscore the need for stronger oversight of the for-profit education industry in order to ensure that students and taxpayers are getting a good value for their investment in these schools."
The investigation required undercover investigators to enroll at 15 for-profit colleges using "fictitious evidence of high-school graduation," such as a home-school diploma or a credential from a closed high school. And 12 of the schools accepted them.
Undercover students "engaged in substandard academic performance" behavior such as skipping class, failure to turn in assignments, submitting "incorrect assignments" and plagiarizing work – all things that would usually result in censure at a college.
Six out of the 12 schools followed school policies in responding to the errant work, while teachers at two schools "repeatedly noted that the students were submitting plagiarized work" but took no action.
The other four schools seemingly just accepted the below-par work and behavior.
One undercover student "consistently submitted plagiarized material, such as articles clearly copied from online sources or text copied verbatim from a class textbook", and while the instructor chided the student, they took no action to report the plagiarism.
The report doesn't directly identify the colleges but said the institutions studied included the five largest in enrollment – this implicates both the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University.
Brian Moran, interim president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, responded to the report in a statement:
"We should be dubious of this new report given the one-sided nature of Senator Harkin's inquiry into the proprietary sector of higher education and serious flaws in the previous GAO report regarding this sector."
Moran noted that the GAO revised and softened the criticisms in its last fact-finding report on for-profit schools, which alleged a pattern of deceptive recruiting tactics across the industry, after being subject to outrage from the for-profit industry.