Harkin “Protecting Students From Worthless Degree Act” Pulls Financial Aid From Programs That Lack Accreditation

Sen. Tom Harkin’s Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act, introduced last week, would crack down on one of for-profit colleges’ worse abuses, writes Stephen Burd of New America Foundation on Higher Ed Watch. No federal financial aid, including veterans benefits, would go to programs that lack the accreditation needed for students to take licensing exams needed for jobs in their fields of study.

During a two-year investigation of for-profit higher education that led to a critical report, committee staff heard from students who’d discovered their certificates or degrees didn’t open the door to jobs. In some cases, students were told the college was accredited, but not told their program was not.

For example, the Senate committee heard testimony from Yasmine Issa, a single mother of twins who completed a training program in ultrasound technology at Career Education Corporation’s Sanford-Brown University in 2008 only to discover from potential employers that the program had not been accredited. . . . Issa, who paid $32,000 for the program ($15,000 of which came from federal student loans), wasn’t eligible to sit for the licensing exam or to find work as a sonographer.

Students at Bridgepoint Education’s Ashford University complained their online education degrees didn’t qualify them to teach in their home states. Students at Kaplan Higher Education’s online Corcord Law School learned that only one state, California, lets graduates of unaccredited law schools take the bar exam. (California lets anyone take the bar, including those who studied on their own. About 15 percent of unaccredited law school graduates pass, according to my attorney daughter.)

Some for-profit college companies disclose the lack of accreditation “deep in their Web sites or in the fine print within pages of enrollment agreements, while framing the disclosure in terms that prevent students from recognizing the gravity of this issue,” the report charged.

. . . prospective students who click on the description of the unaccredited veterinary technology program that Sanford-Brown’s Portland, OR campus offers are told that “graduates who have diligently attended class and their clinical, studied, and practiced their skills should have the skills to seek entry-level employment as veterinary technicians.” What’s left unsaid, according to the report, is that students who enroll in this program at the Portland campus are likely to be left stranded because Oregon, like many other states, only allows graduates of accredited programs to take the licensing exam to become certified veterinary technicians.

The law shouldn’t be needed, Burd writes. Last year, the Education Department adopted rules that threaten severe penalties to programs that deliberately mislead students on accreditation. ”But the Education Department doesn’t appear to be too eager to enforce these rules.”


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