The Department of Education recently announced its intention to conduct an increased number of program reviews of student-aid operations in the coming year. These audit-like examinations are intended to ensure that students receive only the grants that they are entitled to and that institutions make the proper refunds. James Kvaal, Deputy Under Secretary of Education, announced that the department would be making these changes at last week’s Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities Summit – citing a focus on the nation’s deficit.
Addressing this issue, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported:
About 30 percent of all Pell Grant funds now go to students in the for-profit sector. Mr. Kvaal said colleges that educate such needy students with good programs are performing “a service to those students and a service to the country.” But he said then, and at several other times during his talk, that the department remained very concerned about for-profit colleges that rely on “deceptive and high-pressure sales tactics” to enroll students or leave them with unreasonable levels of student debt.
Mr. Kvaal is correct in praising the service that is provided by those schools that educate high proportions of working class students. It is unfortunate that a few bad actors lead to increased and often unnecessary oversight and review for the many good actors among for-profit schools. The result will be to divert the Department’s resources from improving access to higher education and success of students enrolled in our colleges and universities.
Increased access and students’ ultimate successful graduation with skills and knowledge should be the higher education focus of the department – for both the traditional sector of the higher education industry and the for-profit sector. Mixed messages from the department are harming the industry and diverting us from critical improvements that are necessary in the traditional and for-profit sectors. And this is occurring just when we especially need higher education’s contributions to an educated labor force and new technology to aid us in recovering from a too-lengthy recession.