The private, for-profit college industry would stop regulating itself at the state level under a bill that a Kentucky House committee approved Wednesday.
"This is not everything that we probably all would like to see in the bill, but it is doable and it is a start," said Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, the bill's sponsor. A stronger bill last year was passed by the House but died in the Senate in the face of aggressive industry lobbying.
House Bill 308, which proceeds to the full House, would abolish the controversial Kentucky Board for Proprietary Education, which licenses scores of for-profit schools offering two-year associate degrees, technical certificates and other diplomas in various career fields.
Industry representatives hold six of the board's 11 seats and frequently hold the post of chairman. A state audit last year sharply criticized the board, calling it an inattentive watchdog that fails to protect the interests of students. At the same time, student lawsuits and investigations in Kentucky and elsewhere have raised questions about deceptive marketing and the quality of educations sold by the schools.
Rollins' bill would create a new agency, the Kentucky Commission on Proprietary Education. The industry would hold only four of the 11 seats, and never the chairmanship or control of the student complaints review process. The state auditor or someone he designates would have a seat on the board.
The commission would hire an executive director — the current board does not get its own staff — and it would maintain a fund of at least $500,000 to compensate students with grievances, all paid for by fees on the industry, Rollins said.
The for-profit college industry worked with lawmakers to draft a bill it found acceptable, said Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, who co-sponsored it. The industry has spent more than $228,000 on Kentucky political donations since 2002, mostly in the past few years, and it reported spending $36,000 to lobby the 2011 General Assembly.
The industry's chief lobbying group, the Kentucky Association of Career Colleges and Schools, does not oppose this year's bill.
"It's definitely a good compromise," said Candace Bensel, executive director at the association.
Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, sponsored last winter's reform bill and said he was disappointed that his colleagues aren't trying to go further this year.
For-profit college students have told the legislature about specific complaints — deceptive business tactics, credits that would not transfer to other schools, employers who don't recognize training programs — and it's unclear whether the new bill will address these or simply create a new bureaucracy, Meeks said.
Meeks said he might try to amend the bill on the House floor to toughen portions.
"They are doing something, but I just want to be sure that it's enough," Meeks said.