Community Colleges Push Back

Community colleges have been the target of attacks from the for-profit education sector lately. Most prominently, on the eve of last month’s much-anticipated White House Summit on Community Colleges, one marketing firm released a fiery report accusing community colleges of "unsavory recruitment practices" and of offering students "poorer-than-expected academic quality, course availability, class scheduling, job placement and personal attention."

Now, the community college sector is having its say. Tuesday, the American Association of Community Colleges released its latest quarterly policy brief, which "examines some of the variables that differentiate community colleges from for-profit institutions … in terms of oversight, service and financing."

Christopher M. Mullin, author of the brief and the association’s program director for policy analysis, writes that the brief is intended "not to win a debate or to suggest public policies that might logically emanate from those differences, but to show why commonly drawn comparisons between community colleges and for-profit institutions are far less meaningful than some might suggest."

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Mullin said the report was not intended to be a “response” to any other study or report. Still, given the intense debate surrounding regulation of for-profit education in Washington, Mullin said it is important to “clarify some things” to the association’s member colleges.

The primary difference between the two sectors, the brief says, is oversight. Whereas community colleges are governed by publicly elected or appointed boards of trustees, for-profit institutions are owned “either by individuals, partnerships, or collaboratives or are corporations that may be publicly traded.” Publicly traded for-profit institutions, the brief continues, “have grown in size and prominence and begun to dominate the sector.” For example, in the fall of 2008, 10 of the largest publicly traded institutions enrolled about half of all students in the for-profit sector.

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