Controversy Continues over GAO Report

Norton Norris released a second study today on the for-profit industry – this time the study focused on the much-debated GAO report on for-profit education and what Norton Norris deems its “disingenuous and erroneous conclusions.” The Norton Norris report concluded that there were flagrant errors and misrepresentations in the GAO’s report even after the GAO issued a heavily amended and revised version of the study in November 2010.

In a press release, Norton Norris detailed its issues with the most recent version of the report:

  • Throughout their report, the GAO shows it does not understand the difference between an academic year and a calendar year. As a result, five of their findings regarding program length and cost are completely wrong and do not even merit mention in the report.

 

  • In one case, the GAO reports that an undercover applicant was told that getting a job “was a piece of cake” and that graduates from this school are making $120,000 to $130,000 per year. There is no evidence of this conversation in the recording.

 

  • During another visit (mystery shop) the question of graduation rate was NEVER raised by the undercover agent but the report indicates a different scenario and states: “The college representative did not tell the graduation rate when asked directly.” This conversation simply does not exist on the recording.

 

  • In an attempt to paint a college as “over-promising” expected earnings at graduation, the original GAO report stated the undercover applicant could make up to $100 an hour. The revised GAO report adjusts this down to $30 an hour. But the complete recording reveals that later in the discussion the admissions representative is clear that earnings are based on experience, the undercover applicant is given a data sheet and the admissions rep states that minimum average rate per hour for massage therapists in their area is $22. The GAO never reports this last accurate piece of information.

 

  • An admission representative thoroughly explains student loans and the importance of financial responsibility. The admissions representative even suggests the undercover applicant borrow less than what they need. However, the original GAO report as well as a revised version from November 2010 ignores these statements. Instead, they focus solely on another statement offered during the conversation regarding the undercover applicant’s ability to take out the maximum in loans.

An Inside Higher Ed article published today also highlights Norton Norris’ report and offers a response from the GAO. This controversy over dueling reports raises many issues, but it leaves unclear the extent to which there are real problems with admissions programs of for-profit colleges.  As a result of rules by the Department of Education, earlier inquiries and press reports, many for-profit colleges reviewed their admissions programs and, where appropriate, made changes designed to reassure their integrity in dealing with prospective students. It is unfortunate that the news today may be interpreted otherwise.

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GAO Revises Report on For-Profits

Yesterday there were a number of news articles on the Government Accountability Office’s revisions to its report on recruiting practices of the for-profit education sector. The controversial report was the basis for an August hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing held by Senator Harkin (D-IA).

 

In a letter Tuesday, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) asked the GAO to withdraw the testimony made regarding the report and explain why the changes were made. The Washington Post detailed significant changes to the GAO report in an article published today.  The reported changes raise serious questions about the validity of the GAO’s study and offers insight into Senator Enzi’s request to withdraw the testimony.

Here are excerpts from the Washington Post article:

The revised report, posted Nov. 30 on the GAO Web site, changed some key passages. In one anecdote cited as an example of deceptive marketing, the GAO originally reported: “Undercover applicant was told that he could earn up to $100 an hour as a massage therapist. While this may be possible, according to the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] 90 percent of all massage therapists in California make less than $34 per hour.”

 

The revised version states: “While one school representative indicated to the undercover applicant that he could earn up to $30 an hour as a massage therapist, another representative told the applicant that the school’s massage instructors and directors can earn $150-$200 an hour. While this may be possible, according to the BLS, 90 percent of all massage therapists in California make less than $34 per hour.”

 

In another example, the report originally stated that a college representative “told the undercover applicant that by the time the college would be required by [the] Education [Department] to verify any information about the applicant, the applicant would have already graduated from the 7-month program.”

 

The revised version states that “the undercover applicant suggested” that possibility and the “representative acknowledged this was true.”

 

There were several other significant edits to the examples detailed in the report.