Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Higher Ed Watch: Steve Burd - "Why the Harkin Report on For-Profit Colleges Really Matters"

Higher Education Policy Analyst Steve Burd, at the New America Foundation, published a piece on July 31st about Senator Harkin's report on for-profit colleges. The findings offer damning evidence of how these schools mislead students and defraud them. It is clear, based upon Burd's analysis, why Harkin's findings matter. The report, as Burd notes, is "voluminous" and accurately documents systemic abuse among for-profit schools. This abuse turns students into indebted, and oftentimes unemployable citizens. AEM has also documented these sorts of abuses in the past (here's a sampling - here, here, and here, and it doesn't stop there).

Sentoar Harkin is a rarity on the Hill, especially when it comes to critiquing the predatory nature of higher education, and the way in which these higher education institutions - for-profits in particular - make money by turning students into permanent debtors. He is one of the few who truly cares about prospective students, their families, and those who have graduated and struggling with large amounts of student loan debt. Harkin has received a lot of heat for these investigations. That's unfortunate, because he should be praised by groups who supposedly advocate for students. Sadly, so many of these "pro-student" groups have been co-opted by the lenders and the higher education industry that they fail to properly offer support to leaders like Harkin.

The report has come after a 2-year investigation, and Burd calls it a "major development," because "[the report] will make it extremely difficult for the industry and its Congressional champions to continue to deny that abuses have occurred at their schools that have caused – as Senator Harkin said at a press conference yesterday -- 'lasting harm to the students they enroll.'"

Burd admits that lawmakers can ignore the report and its pages and pages of documentation that prove the truly deceptive and fraudulent practices of these institutions. However, they can no longer assert, as Burd notes, "with a straight face," that these operations are run in a transparent, ethical, and fair manner.

As so many of us have known all along, and I would include Burd in this camp, these schools do not have the interests of the students at heart. On the contrary, they are driven by maximizing profits. In so doing, students pay a terrible price and are turned into permanent indentured educated citizens. The borrowers aren't the only ones paying the price: taxpayers who fund these schools are also being hurt. Unfortunately, the lending system is so complex and bureaucratically layered to confuse the public - especially when it comes to the way these schools allocate funds - that few taxpayers truly understand how they are also being defrauded. 

As for the findings in the report, it of course remains to be seen if it will lead to any actual change, such as enforcing strict regulations and penalties for their predatory nature.

Photo Credit: Johnathan Ernst/Reuters

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Senator Harkin!

In my opinion, for-profits are the biggest defrauders of all. We all know they target the unfortunate (sometimes even homeless people), lock them into contracts, force them to sign with certain loan companies, drop them when the funds dry up, keep them in debt forever, etc., etc.).

I do hope that public, state university students/graduates are also remembered.

I'm grateful to Senator Harkin for standing up for what's right. Unfortunately, the "right" thing is never the "popular" thing. I think I learned that saying in Kindergarten. It's sad how it still applies to the adult world; particularly our nation's leaders.