WASHINGTON — Things stayed mostly cordial Friday during a Q&A session between a top Education Department official, at times on the defensive, and a roomful of for-profit college officials, investors and advocates.
On the final day of a symposium sponsored by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities here, James Kvaal, the relatively new deputy undersecretary of education, made a brief speech before fielding questions regarding the Obama administration’s "gainful employment" rules, accusations of hostility against for-profit colleges, and complaints of unfair expectations. Kvaal took no detours from the administration’s public stances — expressing an appreciation both for the important role for-profit institutions play and, "at the same time," for the added responsibility they bear to ensure that their graduates achieve gainful employment, especially when riddled with debt.
Kvaal disputed an assertion that the Obama administration is hostile toward the for-profit sector. When asked why for-profits face an “apples-to-apples comparison” to other institutions when they serve a disproportionate number of low-income and non-traditional students, Kvaal maintained that they cannot be excepted from quality standards and could serve students better.
When Kvaal said he thought the program integrity rules — the regulations unrelated to gainful employment — were “pretty clear across the board,” several people snickered or shook their heads. Kvall then urged them to submit questions or comments so the department can clarify any uncertainty. In his opening speech, Kvaal said that not all for-profit institutions are bad, and that the sector is important because of its diversity of programs and institutions, capacity for innovation and growth, and services for non-traditional students.