For-Profit Colleges Unfairly Judged

By Dr. A.R. Sullivan

In a recent op-ed (For-profit colleges need to be closely examined), Attorney General Jack Conway questions the business practices of some of Kentucky’s for-profit colleges. As leaders of career colleges in Kentucky, we find his argument that all private sector schools use public money and over-burden students with debt is short-sighted and misleading.

The Attorney General contends that a degree from a for-profit school is expensive, costing several times as much as a degree from a public institution. The cost of something does not necessarily equate with value. Yes, tuition at for-profit colleges is, on average, higher than the in-state tuition at state institutions or community colleges, which are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, but it is less than the tuition charged by private, non-profit institutions and the out-of-state tuition charged by public institutions. From a taxpayer perspective, for every $1 in direct government support for private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs), private not-for profit institutions receive $8.69 and public institutions receive $19.38. From a student perspective, the cost of education may be worth it if the likelihood of graduation is higher at a PSCU than at a less expensive community college, which is the case by a factor of three to one; more than 60 percent of students at two-year career colleges graduate, compared to 22 percent of community college students. Plus PSCU students avoid the long waiting lists for popular programs like nursing and information technology, getting them into the workforce faster. At nationally accredited PSCUs, the in-field placement rate is about 70 percent even in this distressed economy. Our students are receiving an education that prepares them for "gainful employment."

Attorney General Conway also argues that some private sector schools are "targeting vulnerable populations," including single mothers needing public assistance. Why has serving historically underserved populations become interpreted as "targeting"? The reality is that PSCUs offer career-focused, flexible educational opportunities that are often inaccessible to nontraditional students at public colleges – including working adults, returning veterans and single parents. And education at PSCUs is not only a matter of access by opening doors that others have shut, allowing them to have careers that would otherwise not be possible, but success as evidenced by research showing that PSCUs have higher graduation rates than institutions with similarly situated at-risk students.

We agree with the Attorney General’s commitment to investigate cases of fraud or other illegal activities. However, we do not countenance singling out one sector to investigate for investigation’s sake. As Attorney General, it is Jack Conway’s job to ensure that all schools in the state help students achieve their dreams in a manner that is fair and compliant with state laws, no matter what sector that education may fall within.

Dr. A.R. Sullivan is President and CEO of the Sullivan University System.

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