The Education Department faces two competing objectives this spring—making President Obama’s vision of rewriting the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind law a reality and winning its war over regulating career and technical colleges. At the moment, the career college war seems to be taking over.
The administration is trying to persuade Congress to embrace its vision of a new streamlined K-12 law that would affect every public school in the country, but it can’t go a week without another twist emerging in its ongoing battle to regulate for-profit colleges like Kaplan, DeVry, and Strayer University.
In what seems to be an endless carnival game, the Education Department is consistently whacking down for-profit college moles that are repeatedly popping up. Yet it doesn’t want to distract from the president’s message, begun in the State of the Union and continuing as the budget is being rolled out, that updating No Child Left Behind is a top priority. Without congressional action, many public school districts will face punitive measures come 2014 because of outdated achievement requirements in the law. No one disagrees that those standards need to be changed, but there is considerable distance between Republicans and Democrats on how far the changes should go.
But about those for-profit college moles. Here are the latest developments:
- The Government Accountability Office is conducting a second investigation into for-profit schools after some lawmakers and lobbyists for the for-profit industry cried foul over the first investigative report released last summer. A handful of lawmakers in the House led by Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, D-Minn., are asking GAO to bar the current director of the Forensic Audit and Special Investigations Unit from any involvement in the new investigation since they think he bungled the last one so badly.
- The Education Department released data Thursday showing that the three-year default rate for students who took out federal loans to attend for-profit colleges (25 percent) is far above the rate for students who took out loans to attend public schools (10.8 percent) or private colleges (7.6 percent). This adds fuel to critics of for-profit colleges who say they are a bad deal for taxpayers and students. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities said students at for-profit colleges are more likely to default because they are more economically disadvantaged than students at private or public colleges.
- The Center for Educational Success sued GAO this week for “professional malpractice” over last summer’s investigation into for-profit schools. APSCU sued the Education Department earlier this month over its new rules governing the industry.
Meanwhile, the Education Department is working to finalize a rule that would make it more difficult for for-profit colleges to access federal student loan dollars. Industry lobbyists say the proposed rule would run many schools into the ground. It’s a safe bet that the final rule will change to address some of their concerns. But if the current pace of the for-profit Whack-a-Mole game is any indication, it’s also a safe bet that there will be some more protests from the industry lobbyists down the line.
This article appears in the February 4, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.