For-profit colleges

For-profit colleges are an option used by many students who cannot enroll in the state’s public collegues and universities. Given this, the for-profit schools should be regulated effectively.

In 2009, the California Bureau of Private Post-Secondary Education, which is under the Department of Consumer Affairs, was established to protect the public as its “highest priority.” The Bureau is charged with approving private colleges to operate in the state. It then is supposed to enforce the law by investigating complaints and conducting annual site inspections.

The oversight function is extremely important in this sector. Graduation rates in for-profit schools are low (22%), much lower than at public four-year colleges (55%) or at private four-year institutions (65%). As well, the for-profit sector enrolls 1 in 10 college students in California but receives more Cal Grant dollars from the state than all the community college combined.

Female and minority students make up the majority at these for-profit schools, which tend to offer primarily vocational and specialized bachelor’s degrees. These are the students that then find themselves in the cold, with unfulfilled promises, high personal debt, and poor educational preparation.

Given this panorama of problems, the state Bureau has failed to properly oversee the state’s for-profit schools. The Bay Citizen reported that the Bureau has a backlog of about 200 investigations into complaints against schools accused of hiring unqualified faculty members, awarding degrees of dubious value, and other violations.

Under pressure, the administrator in charge of the Bureau, Karen Newquist, has resigned effective this March.

This is a positive development but the agency must do more than just change personnel, t must change its attitude. The law requires that if protection of the public is inconsistent with other interests, the “protection of the public shall be paramount.” There should be no doubt about the Bureau’s priorities.

There are 400,000 students in California enrolled in for-profit vocational schools. They deserve consumer protection. There is a state agency with the duty to do. It is time that it fulfill its obligations.