Accountability in Proprietary Higher Education

The pressure for accountability did not disappear with the change in administrations from President Bush to President Obama.  During the Bush administration, the Spellings Commission made accountability a major national issue, and some changes did come to public and private education.  The Obama administration has maintained pressure for accountability from higher education, but it has turned attention to the proprietary schools.  This is a needed and appropriate demand for attention in this sector of higher education as well.

The issue of accountability from for-profit schools is often associated with the debt that its graduates have upon completing their education.  Student loans and debt of graduates, of course, are not a unique issue for proprietary schools.  The issue is a major one for public higher education as well, especially in light of rising tuition in public higher education.

Calls for accountability are appropriate, then, for both traditional and the newer proprietary higher education institutions.  The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities produced the Voluntary System of Accountability with its “College Portrait” reporting system about three years ago.   Responses to it have been inconsistent, but it was a positive sign to see some schools providing accountability data.

With the pressure now growing for accountability among proprietary schools, we are beginning to see some response as well.  Corinthian Colleges contracted with The Parthenon Group for a study of accountability that was reported in mid March.

What The Parthenon Group reported is interesting to any prospective student or parent.  It reported much better graduation rates for the students in proprietary schools than for the public sector.  The private sector data showed a graduation rate of 65% after five years in contrast to 44% for the public sector.

We are a nation that is increasingly dependent for our global competitiveness on the quality of human capital.  Before making a decision on an educational institution, we should expect increasingly to find information from its website on what is learned and whether the student is likely to graduate in a timely fashion.

You can check out the Parthenon study at its website, and you can check out the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ website, called College Portrait of Undergraduate Education, and see if your local public university is willing to voluntarily provide information on its performance.

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