For-profit institutions are a significant force in higher education as they take the well-practiced marketing ideas of selling convenience and service to adult students. They have taken advantage of the excess demand for post-secondary education that is not being met by traditional colleges and universities. I can’t fault entrepreneurs for seeking out opportunities to take failing traditional schools and reinventing them as for-profit institutions, but they should take responsibility to set up proper management of these schools, if only to protect their own investment. High pressure enrollment tactics may produce short-term results of high profits, but if these schools ultimately lose their accreditation, and thus their ability to participate in the federal student loan program, then both students and investors lose.
That regulators now want to impose a “gainfully employed” standard to measure the success of for-profit schools is not surprising given the massive amount of advertising they are undertaking. Truth in advertising is not a new concept. The FDA ensures that the health benefits touted by drug manufacturers and sellers are accurate and that there aren’t undisclosed negative consequences. Banks are scrutinized for their advertising of loan and investment rates. Why shouldn’t colleges – for-profit or non-profit – be held to a similar standard?
The argument can be made, however, that it’s not as simple as providing the education needed to find a job. Other factors in the economy can impact one’s ability to become gainfully employed, as I have come to realize all too well this past year. And yet, I, too, have turned to furthering my education as a way to make myself a better candidate for employment. While the program I have chosen is not geared for a specific occupation, students who are seeking specific training of specific skills should be able to demonstrate competency at the end of that training. If they cannot, then the course has failed to meet its objectives. And if schools are going to be run as businesses, they need to be charged with meeting their goals by delivering on their objectives, just as any company would be.