Shireman Speaks

Nine months after leaving the U.S. Education Department, where he led an effort to ramp up regulation of for-profit higher education and was accused of trying to shut down the sector, Robert Shireman made his first meaningful public comments about the state of government oversight of the colleges in a speech here Friday.

And while he expressed continued concerns that the institutions’ profit-making orientation led some of them to pursue fast growth at the expense of quality, and suggested that accrediting agencies adopt a set of indicators that would help them identify problem colleges, Shireman offered a relatively evenhanded appraisal of the sector — even coming to its defense when some audience members suggested that the colleges’ profit motive was inherently flawed and that regulators should treat them entirely differently simply because of their tax status.

Shireman’s comments, as part of a panel on the future of higher education accreditation (in which this reporter participated) during the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Academic Resource Conference, came nearly a year after he gave a speech (near the end of his 16-month term as deputy under secretary of education) that was seen as highly critical of accreditors’ ability to keep for-profit colleges in check.

That speech, in which Shireman compared accreditors to the bond ratings agencies on Wall Street that were outgunned by an industry that has grown too quickly and become too complex for them to control, drew attention to the accrediting agencies’ role in a way that has since been echoed by Shireman’s successors at the Education Department and by a Senate committee investigating for-profit higher education.

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