Blog: Nothing ‘Harmless’ About Calling Out Traditional Schools

Yesterday, Inside Higher Education mentioned our "Double Standard" web page in its article titled, "Has the Conversation Changed?" For those of you who regularly follow our daily news blasts, we began asking our readers last week to forward us examples from advertisements in which community colleges and traditional colleges and universities make egregious over-statements and use promissory language that would almost assuredly cost a "for-profit" institution some steep financial and penalties and would be a breach of the marketing regulations they are made to comply with, including "Truth in Advertising" laws.

The results have been enlightening, to say the least, even compared to what we thought we might find. But nevertheless, a source quoted in the Inside Higher Ed article attempted to negate our collection of misleading advertisements. The assertion was made that our work is nothing more than a "harmless" exercise that amounts to little more than retorting to the recent Senate investigation by pointing at community and traditional colleges and yelling, "’They do it too!’"

Concerned with what it purveys as a much larger issue, the article alleges a change in position that career colleges are taking relevant to last week’s Senate hearing and “secret shopper” evidence. Late in the article, Career College Central is referred to simply as a news aggregate website (though we believe ourselves to be much more than that) and features insight from Pedro de la Torre III, an advocacy senior associate at the left-leaning Center for American Progress’s Campus Progress. Mr. de la Torre comments directly about the double standard material we’ve gathered:

“The problem is that the examples of ‘misleading’ advertising by other higher education sectors are, at least comparatively, harmless, and that all of the data clearly shows that for-profit education is — more than any other sector — in desperate need of strong oversight.”

Despite his attempt to discount our efforts, the argument is still relevant: community colleges as well as traditional colleges and universities are egregiously over-promising and offering improvable statements. We are held to much stricter regulation, and we are the focus of the Senate hearings. If the tables were turned, or even leveled, what would the Senate find the traditional universities and community colleges communicating to the consumer? I’m not convinced that’s a harmless point to make.

I suppose it’s only harmless if our government is simply looking to hurt for-profit schools to the perceived benefit of traditional universities and community colleges. If the government is truly trying to protect Americans from misleading advertising, then it is a poignant question that demands answers.

I would suggest that the same could be said of gainful employment. If the DOE is truly trying to protect Americans from incurring more debt than THEY think is reasonable, why are the only Americans worth protecting those that attend "For-Profit" schools? What would the outcome be if the same conditions for Title IV access were to be placed on community colleges and traditional universities? Could programs designed to teach Americans to become teachers and social workers hold up to the proposed gainful employment metrics? Does a young teacher with $60,000 – $120,000 in debt earn enough to repay the loans at an 8%-12% ratio? “Not a chance.”

If you can answer these questions (answer seems pretty simple to me), you will realize that this investigation has little to do with protecting Americans and everything to do with the government wanting to control education by controlling Title IV dollars … which by the way, they mistakenly view as “their money.” It is NOT their money, it is your money. We tend to forget that!

Pedro de la Torre’s use of the word “harmless” perfectly illustrates the double standard we are inarguably illustrating on our web page. Try telling the legal department at a career college that promissory language is harmless. It’s only harmless for traditional universities and community colleges that get to play be a watered-down set of rules. The consequences this has on career education are evident. The sector, which provides millions of students with job-specific training to support the specific needs of the economy, is portrayed as the scourge of higher education while four-years schools and community colleges continue on, unscathed….unaddressed. Just imagine an America where our leaders put as much focus on job creation and improving a terribly flawed education program, as they do investigating the schools that actually train, graduate and place, students into the 21st century career fields.

The harmlessness here depends on viewpoint, and it’s clear de la Torres cannot see beyond his own agenda … um, perspective.

By Michael Platt

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