America’s for-profit schools have finally released their new standards for conduct.
Facing months of criticism about their behavior, in April the Coalition for Educational Success, a lobbying group for proprietary colleges, announced that it would soon come up with a guideline for “best practices that will improve and ensure transparency, disclosure, training, provide strong new protections for students, and develop a mechanism to ensure adherence to the new standards.”
Many of the standards speak to criticisms that have been raised about the industry. Here are some of the standards:
1. Admission and financial aid officers must not tell prospective students that there are any guarantees they will graduate, get a job or earn any particular salary. For-profits have been accused of making exaggerated claims about employability and earnings.
2. New students must be apprised of the total projected cost of their education, as well as completion and employment rates, before they enroll. Several current and former for-profit students have told me they learned the cost of their education only when the bill arrived.
3. Admission officers must tell applicants not to falsify information on aid forms. Students told congressional investigators they were told to lie to get more aid money.
4. Colleges should offer new students a money-back trial enrollment period of at least 21 days. Some large for-profit providers have already done this.
None of this is terribly surprising and seems mostly to reflect general good practices for businesses. Honestly and openness are important. Providing potential customers with enough information to make responsible decisions is a positive development. As Stephen Burd at the New America foundation pointed out, many of these standards are actually “required by law and/or U.S. Department of Education regulations.” Voluntary standards aren’t really the appropriate term for behaviors that are already legally compulsory.