Setting the Standard in Education

Tuesdays with Arne: Duncan Keynotes Policy Forum… At DeVry!?

In Federal on May 12, 2010 at 12:49 am

You may have heard about the speech Robert Shireman, the Under Secretary of Education, gave a couple of weeks ago comparing for-profit colleges to Wall Street. In it, he talked about the expansion of Pell Grant subsidies in the last year and how much for-profit colleges have reaped from them:

Corinthian Colleges – 38% increase for first 3 quarters this year compared to last year for
a total of $800M
DeVry – a couple people here from DeVry? – 42% increase up to $1.7B
ITT – you guys here? A 44% increase up to $623M
Strayer – still here? Is that you? Well this one – 95% increase, may be something about
the quarters, but up to $414M
APEI – Wally here? And Russell? 94% increase up to $44M
Kaplan – they here? So this total is actually all the Washington Post owned entities, 33%
increase up to $909M, and again this is the first 3 quarters of the year so the totals for the
year are obviously more than that
Career Education Corporation – 29% increase up to $1B this first three quarters
EDMC – several folks here; a 16% increase, $1.1B
Capella – over there? 40% increase to $378M
And I think I’ve just got a couple of others: Grand Canyon – 55% increase to $260M
And University of phoenix – you there? – 9% increase but obviously that’s on a larger base. So probably that increase is as much as a lot of others’ total dollars, and that increase is $2.7b total
And Bridgepoint – you guys here? – 61% increase, $393M
I think those were all that I had numbers for, obviously I know that there’s a few others here as well.

This is what running a for-profit college must be like. Image rights owned by Newsweek.

He was the man, laying down the law. His speech was s0 successful that for-profit colleges’ stocks crashed afterward. Well, it seems as though Arne got a little worried that that speech went overboard. He decided to give the keynote speech at the DeVry Public Policy Forum. Yes, that’s the same DeVry with a 42% increase in Pell Grants from last year. While Shireman had the cajones to to come out against these money machines, Duncan believes his job is to be the politician instead, smoothing over any hurt feelings:

Let me be crystal clear: for-profit institutions play a vital role in training young people and adults for jobs. They are critical to helping America meet the President’s 2020 goal. They are helping us meet the explosive demand for skills that public institutions cannot always meet.

Now, I’m a big fan of Duncan for the most part, but this makes less sense than his comment on NPR that he’s had “zero” public opposition to his policies. Mother Theresa didn’t have zero public opposition to her policies. At least in that case, I could give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s just saying he’s had good vibes from Joe on the street about what he’s doing. But by not only speaking at a for-profit public policy forum, but saying that those institutions are “vital”, Duncan completely undermines the message Shireman gave and backs down against the very businesses that are wasting tax-payer dollars.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’m morally opposed to people making money on education. I think whichever way we can educate students best should be pushed. However, these companies – and that’s what they are, not schools – are ONLY in it for the money. If they actually cared about educating students, they’d create environments that help students become successful, but they’re not. Without regulations that require them to provide quality services, they scam unsuspecting students into spending their money, along with the governments money, on a sham. Does it sound like I am being hyperbolic? I’m not. The purpose of a post-secondary institution is to give a marketable degree and skills they can use. Not only are the degrees these institutions provide not marketable, because they skimp on the skills, they don’t even give degrees to most of the students who enroll.

When I was a high school teacher, I posted some degree statistics for my students to be able to compare institutions. Ivy League schools have freshman retention rates of virtually 100%. All of them have above 95% of their students returning the next year. They all award degrees to over 90% of the students who enroll. Harvard’s 6-year graduation rate is 98%. If you go to Harvard, you will pretty much be guaranteed to graduate. I compared that to the state schools in Arizona (the state where I taught). Arizona State has one of the lowest freshman retention rates of a public four-year institution in the country – 79% and a 6-year gradutation rate of just 55% (only 27% in four years). However, those schools look like gods compared to for-profit schools. The prestigious DeVry University for which Mr. Duncan expressed  his admiration typically graduates less than 1/3 of the students who enroll. I suppose they’re the cream of the crop when compared to the University of Phoenix, whose Las Vegas campus had a 1% 4-year graduation rate recently. That is not a typo. OK, I’ll be fair – they had a whole 14% 6-year graduation rate. I suppose that’s better than their graduation rate for those who take their classes online.

My point is simple. If for-profit schools can’t bother to improve their practices to ensure that their students graduate, then why should the government give them money to keep them in business? You want to try to scam unsuspecting students? You should be shut down, not appeased. And Arne, learn from Rob. Be a man.

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