Three Senators Fight To Protect Students From ‘Worthless Degrees’ At For-Profit Colleges

A new bill has been introduced in Congress with the goal of cracking down on unaccredited college programs that are draining student and taxpayer dollars.

The Protecting Students from Worthless Degrees Act targets schools that are institutionally accredited but offer individual programs that do not meet state licensing and programmatic accreditation necessary for jobs in those fields.

The bill, authored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), would stop sending money from federal Pell Grants, G.I. Bill benefits and other taxpayer-funded funds to these programs.

“Most Americans would be outraged to learn that their tax dollars are going to education programs that do not meet the basic requirements needed for their graduates to enter their chosen profession,” Harkin said in a statement.

The authors argue that students enter these unaccredited and unlicensed programs believing they will be prepared for a job in that specialized field, but only find out when they graduate — often with thousands in debt — that their school program does not qualify them to work in that field.

Unaccredited programs are often offered at for-profit institutions such as DeVry University or University of Phoenix. The bill comes on the tails of a highly critical report on for-profit universities, produced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is chaired by Harkin.

The report indicated that these for-profit institutions consume $32 billion in taxpayer dollars, yet more than half of students enrolled during the 2008-2009 school year dropped out within a few months. Whether or not they graduate, for-profit students often leave with heavy debts and little career support.

Many unaccredited programs are generally designed to prepare students for specific jobs such as medical technician positions. But in many states, students need a properly accredited degree to qualify for these jobs, explained the bill authors.

For example, Aubrie L. Roupe, a stay-at-home mother from Sioux City, Iowa, enrolled at the for-profit University of Phoenix in 2008. She completed an associate’s degree in pharmacy practice and graduated, but learned later that she couldn’t take the required licensing exam because her program was not accredited and because she had a felony. While the school is accredited, its pharmacy program isn’t, a problem that lies at the heart of this bill.

She wrote a letter to the HELP Committee explaining her problem, which is included in documents for the for-profit college report.

“After all my time, effort, and hard work, I am left with a $27,000 leather-bound piece of paper that states that I am qualified to do the job of a pharmacy technician but, am unable to gain employment in the field,” wrote Roupe, who currently sits in heavy debt.

If the bill were to pass, Stafford Loans, Department of Defense Tuition Assistance and other federal funds would only be handed out to university programs that met licensing and accreditation requirements.

“A college that claims to prepare a student for a specific job should have the accreditation needed so that those degrees are actually worth something in the job market,” Merkley said in a statement. “It’s common sense to say that taxpayers have no place funding programs that hurt students more than they help.”


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