The state of Wisconsin is considering a new law designed to police for-profit colleges: evaluate them based on their outcomes.

According to an article by Michael Stratford in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The state agency in Wisconsin that oversees for-profit colleges is considering a proposal that would require those institutions to meet certain performance standards—much like a controversial federal rule—in order to be allowed to operate in the state.

Under the proposed regulation, which is rare at the state level, a college would have to ensure that at least 60 percent of its students complete their studies within a certain time frame and that 60 percent of graduates get jobs. The rule would apply to all institutions under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Education Approval Board: all for-profit colleges with a physical presence in the state and online distance-education programs offered to Wisconsin residents by any out-of-state institution.

The new rule would apply only to proprietary colleges. The board does not have authority over traditional colleges operating in Wisconsin.

This looks rather promising but there’s something odd about setting a 60 percent job placement rate as a minimum. For-profit colleges are essentially vocational schools; unlike traditional colleges they exist primarily to help people get better jobs and make more money. Shouldn’t the threshold be a little higher?

Admittedly, according to the article only 22 percent of graduates of for-profit colleges were employed under the current definition used by the state.

Many proprietary institutions object to the standards proposed. They apparently sent letters to the board indicating that the 60-60 rule was “was arbitrary and should not be broadly applied to a diverse set of programs, which often enroll underserved populations.”

Well yes, but if an institution can’t get two-thirds of students through to graduation, and less than 60 percent of them have jobs at the end, they’re not serving those populations very well, are they?

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