The Debt Is Only the First Problem

With Senator Tom Harkin’s committee hearings on for-profit schools coinciding with the Department of Education’s rules on gainful employment, many policymakers are now concerned with the debt levels at for-profit schools. This is an important development, but it’s probably not enough.

According to an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Jeremy Dehn, who teaches at the for-profit Art Institute of Colorado, there’s something wrong with the financial model itself. As Dehn writes:

The real problem that’s being ignored in this debate is that more Americans than ever are now trying to pull themselves out of the recession through education, and there aren’t enough affordable degree programs to serve them.

Of course we should crack down on for-profit colleges that exploit students and taxpayers. Education should lead students out of poverty, not into it. But that’s not enough. We need to quit subsidizing for-profit colleges, and instead devote our resources to expanding and improving the system of state and community colleges that work more effectively for a small fraction of the cost.

Americans have been sold on the idea that education is the way to a better life. This is surely true in the aggregate, but it does appear odd that for-profit colleges, which consume so much federal financial aid, seem to do the very worst job helping students to move from poverty to professional employment.

Daniel Luzer

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