Andrea Thomas tried the traditional college route.
After graduating from Ridgeland High School, she enrolled at one of the state’s public universities, but she felt like a number and didn’t have a base of support.
"I used to go back to my dorm room crying every day," Thomas, 22, said. "It was just too much, too fast."
She quit school and didn’t know what she’d do until she saw a commercial for Antonelli College – an Ohio-based for-profit school with campuses in Jackson and Hattiesburg. She’s now pursuing a graphic design degree at the Jackson site.
"It’s the best decision I’ve ever made," she said.
The for-profit college industry has been criticized as being predatory or too business-focused, but the institutions say new federal regulations on them will limit access to higher education and prevent others from having the option Thomas has had.
"This is going to derail a ton of people," said Milton Anderson, president of Virginia College’s Jackson campus. "It’s going to be a major problem."
The rules would base a school’s eligibility to receive federal aid on students’ loan repayment history and graduates’ ability to land a job.
Supporters of the new rules say they are holding institutions – many of which receive millions in federal loans and grants – accountable and protecting students from ending up with high debt loads and inadequate job skills.
"These schools and their investors benefit from billions of dollars in taxpayers subsidies, and in return, taxpayers have a right to know that all of these programs are providing solid preparation for a job," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.
The regulations could eliminate federal financial aid for programs in which a high proportion of students graduate with debt loads that outpace the salaries they can earn.
A coalition of education and consumer groups support the changes.
The for-profit college industry and its allies have been fighting them.
"It’s a solution in search of a problem," said Harris Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities – a group that represents the for-profit industry. Antonelli College and Virginia College both are members of the association.
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