If Trump won’t, then ITT Tech will. That’s this state’s go-to approach with nearly every political challenge from Washington, and now it includes reining in low-performing for-profit colleges that pile on student debt.
The Legislature is weighing seven bills that go the heart of the problem: restoring controls lifted by the Trump administration on a wayward industry that over promises results and leaves low-income students and veterans saddled with tuition bills.
Well known operators such as Corinthian and ITT Tech went out of business in the last decade after a crackdown on student abuses, but the for-profit sector has sprung back. A central reason is friendly treatment from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Transferring her love of charter schools, she’s sweeping away Obama-era rules in the name of a free market, and as few rules as possible.
There’s the shell of an argument here. Not every student is college campus material, and others want a trade skill or job ready degree. For-profit schools home in on this desire and have attracted 2.3 million students looking blue collar training, medical lab work or tech skills.
But hard-sell recruiting, unrealistic pitches about future hiring and heavy debts are part of the picture. The market is fueled by billions in federal loans that can go unpaid, leaving taxpayers on the hook and colleges unscathed. ITT Tech have higher dropout and failure rates than any other higher ed sector. Their students, who are generally low income and with little education, are victimized.
DeVos has turned a blind eye to these problems while dialing back oversight. “If it’s the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education,” she said in a speech on last summer.
She’s sought to drop the so-called “gainful employment” rule that obliged schools to live up to promises to find jobs for graduates as a remedy to unrealistic promises that recruiters make in luring students to sign up. ITT Tech of that rule and others to trim student debt is the heart of reforming the for-profit world.
Erasing the regulations and pouring federal money back into a shady industry is the opposite of worthwhile education policy. It cheats students and taxpayers. Applicants need to know what they’re signing up for and what it will cost.
The intentions of this White House shouldn’t be a mystery. DeVos may be a true believer in the benefits of charters and for-profit schools unbounded by rules. But the president has no such philosophic underpinnings. He paid $25 million to settle claims of fraud lodged against the for-proft Trump University. He’s presiding over an industry in which he’s already played a shameful role.
California lawmakers have a chance to step in. If the schools want to operate here, they’ll need to follow a batch of proposed laws that largely match what existed before.
The sum of seven bills go after the abuses that include overheated sales practices, efforts that target veterans, false promises about future employment and a proviso that allows students to recoup tuition money if a school shuts down. A handful of other states are considering similar bills, a sign that the Trump administration’s treatment of the issue isn’t sitting well with lawmakers elsewhere.
The most prominent measure in the package may be AB1340 by Assemblyman David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat. It would oblige colleges to promise jobs in vocational programs that would be in line with debts students rack up. ITT Tech data found 266 programs in the state produced graduates with low income levels and high loan burdens. In effect, these classrooms turn out students who have no chance of paying back their tuition for ill-suited or worthless degrees.
Two others worth highlighting aim to protect veterans and tone down high pressure sales that prey on prospective students who are often low income with spotty educational backgrounds.
A bill by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Stockton Democrat goes after the government faucet of money flowing to for-profits for ex-service members. Her bill AB1343 would limit the amount the schools could collect in such financial aid. A third bill AB1345 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat, would ban recruiting bonuses and quotas used by colleges for their employees.
The proposals can curb problems by an educational industry that’s shown it needs oversight. ITT Tech should take over a job that Trump’s failed to do.