Advocates Call For Stronger Standards And Accountability For Private Postsecondary Schools

By: Wynn Hausser
Date: February 14, 2012

Say California Low-Income Students and Students of Color Hardest Hit by Bad Actors

SACRAMENTO, CA — Higher education and social justice advocates today called on the California Legislature to strengthen California’s oversight of private postsecondary programs, pointing to trends revealing that low-income students and students of color disproportionally attend private, for-profit schools, subjecting these students to high loan burdens and default rates and poor graduation results.
The remarks came as the California Assembly Higher Education Committee and Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee held a joint oversight hearing to examine California’s effectiveness in assuring the quality of private postsecondary education institutions, including for-profit schools.
“The goal of our higher education system is sometimes described as providing as many Californians as possible with access to college and career preparation opportunities. But access alone is not enough. We have to ask ‘access to what?’” said Jamienne S. Studley, president and CEO of Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit civil rights law firm and advocacy organization, in her prepared remarks. “If our goal were to provide low-income neighborhoods and individuals with access to good banking services, we would not count opening more payday lenders as success.
“We have a special commitment to assuring that those who need these opportunities most — low-income people and people of color, first-generation college goers, returning veterans, and laid off and underemployed workers — reap the benefits of higher education that yields quality outcomes and prepares students for stable, family-supporting jobs and civic engagement.”
Studley pointed to data from the U.S. Department of Education showing that while African-American and Latino students make up 37 percent of all undergraduates in California, they represent 57 percent of undergraduates attending California for-profit schools. Further, students of color attend some of the lowest-quality schools. In The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education, the former U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics found that more than 60 percent of African-American students at for-profit schools attended institutions that graduate less than one third of their students. The College Board found that the gap between completion rates for African-American students and those for white and Asian students is larger in the for-profit sector than in the public and private not-for-profit sectors.
Studies also show disparities by income. “Over half of the dependent students enrolled in for-profit institutions in 2007-08 were from families with incomes below $40,000,” according to the same report.
Studley is past president of Skidmore College and general counsel of the U.S Department of Education. She currently chairs the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), which advises the Secretary of Education on accreditation and higher education accountability.
Studley challenged legislators, state agencies, the Attorney General, accreditors and postsecondary institutions “to implement a strong oversight system that effectively distinguishes between institutions that provide quality programs and operate with integrity and transparency and those that do not.” Public Advocates’ recommendations included assuring students comparable, verifiable information to help them make wise choices and state investigation of complaints for all institutions.
“The good news here is that you have the authority and an agency in place, the resources involved are modest, and you can make real headway if you have the political will and courage to support a process that weeds out those schools that fall short,” Studley said.
For Studley’s full prepared remarks, see

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