Some people, not all of them affiliated with the for-profit education industry, are beginning to wonder if maybe all the latest focus on abuse at these schools actually obscures a greater problem: fraud and waste at regular colleges.

According to an article by Daniel Bennett and Zac Bissonnette in Forbes:

Instances of fraud and abuse of taxpayer money should be sought out and prosecuted; however, we want to recognize that although there are some (perhaps many) bad actors in the for-profit industry that should be cut off from the Title IV gravy train, we believe the for-profit sector is being used as a red herring for symptoms that ail most of the higher education system.

This is an interesting point, and perhaps the most salient one made about the for-profit industry so far. It’s not just proprietary schools that offer slick marketing, glittering generalities, limited job prospects, and saddle students with too much debt by taking advantage of federal student loans.

That being said, so what? Too many students have too high debt. If the for-profit schools are the first ones hit on this, that’s okay. The real colleges will be next.

Red herring may be the wrong an idiomatic expression. A red herring is a rhetorical tactic to divert attention away from something significant. Is that what’s going on here? Are the Department of Education and Democratic senators really focusing on for-profit colleges in a deliberate effort to keep people from looking into waste in higher education? If so they’re doing an awful job.

It seems what’s really going on here is that proprietary schools are merely an entry point into a discussion about spending for higher education. This is a good thing.

The for-profit colleges issue is not a red herring; it is what one might call, to use another idiomatic expression, just low-hanging fruit. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer