Career colleges that want to do business in the Volunteer State are facing increased legislation.
Beginning in 2009, colleges in Tennessee will have to disclose credit transfer policies and graduation information on their web pages and in writing before students sign enrollment agreements or contracts. In addition, colleges must disclose total tuition costs and detailed job placement information specific to the field of study the student is considering. If a college does not comply, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) may suspend the school’s license to operate in Tennessee.
Tennessee Senator and Speaker Pro Tem Rosalind Kurita (D), Clarksville, sponsored the bill.
"This legislation is important in my district where we have seen for-profit schools suddenly close with no prior notice," Kurita said. "I want anyone who decides to go back to school to have an opportunity to really understand the complex contracts before they sign up for an expensive course which may not transfer."
Tennessee is home to 169 career colleges that operate on about 300 campuses. More than 50,000 students are enrolled.
Dr. Stephanie Bellard, Assistant Executive Director of Postsecondary School Authorization for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, oversees regulation of career colleges in the state. She is an advocate for the institutions at the statehouse.
Bellard said THEC has gotten one clear message from lawmakers this year: Make sure students are protected. Still, traditional colleges in Tennessee (which are also regulated by THEC), such as the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University, do not have to make the same disclosures. Is it unfair? Bellard doesn’t think so.
"Their [career college’s] claim to fame is that they get people jobs fast," Bellard said. "If that’s all they do, then they need to prove they can do it. It’s the mission of the institution. If that’s your mission, you should be able to prove it."
Kurita said the new laws are designed to protect students from predatory schools.
"I want students who pay money to take a course to be able to expect a job – not an empty promise of a job – when they complete their coursework," Kurita said.
Tennessee House Majority Leader, Representative Gary Odom (D), Nashville, also has his name on the bill. For him, career colleges are more equally compared to financial institutions and car dealerships than traditional colleges.
"We require car dealers to fully disclose the facts about a vehicle they are selling, and we require banks to fully disclose the contract terms of the car loans they provide," Odom said. "Yet right now, these schools don’t have to disclose anything, and that’s not fair to students wanting to earn a degree."