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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New Study: Career Colleges Outrank Community Colleges

Yesterday, Norton Norris, Inc. released a survey of 332 career college students who have attended community colleges in the past. The study was of particular interest to me because of my family’s long-time involvement with and support of community colleges; my wife spent 35 years as faculty member and administrator, and both she and my son have Associate’s degrees.  The Norton Norris survey found that career colleges ranked higher on 13 out of 14 aspects of its study, including job placement services and flexibility of class schedules.

What I found most interesting was the study’s break-down of the costs of education between the for-profit sector and the publicly funded community college.  There was a significant difference between career and community colleges with career colleges’ costing about $25,000 more per student graduate. The study makes the following observations.  Community colleges only graduate 20.3% of their enrolled students, compared to 58.2% at private sector schools.  Community colleges do not assist most students with job placement and community colleges are not more accessible to students; overcrowding and scheduling continue to be major concerns.

Traditional community colleges do provide a low price option for someone to take a single course or a few courses, and this is part of their mission and a source of the higher cost per graduating student.  But the outcomes of the study are noteworthy, especially in light of the very high cost-per-graduate difference.  It is also worth noting, in light of the recent GAO report on for-profit colleges and universities, that the Norton Norris study found some less-than admirable practices from traditional community colleges.  Community colleges are also guilty of withholding important information from prospective students, such as graduation rates. Moreover, like their career college counterpart, community colleges also advertise relatively widely today, and they use the public’s tax dollars to do so.   While no misleading practice by career colleges or community colleges is acceptable, the study paints a much more positive picture of the for-profit career college than information the public has recently received from many media.

Click here to view one video that was produced as a result of the study.