Not all of higher ed hates the Spellings Commission

Kind of an interesting piece in yesterday’s Insider Higher Ed about the Spellings Commission report, “What Took You So Long?” Here are the opening paragraphs:

You’d have been hard pressed to attend a major higher education conference over the last year where the work of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education and the U.S. Education Department’s efforts to carry it out were not discussed. And they were rarely mentioned in the politest of terms, with faculty members, private college presidents, and others often bemoaning proposals aimed at ensuring that colleges better measure the learning outcomes of their students and that they do so in more readily comparable ways.

The annual meeting of the Career College Association, which represents 1,400 mostly for-profit and career-oriented colleges, featured its own panel session Thursday on Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ various “higher education initiatives,� and it had a very different feel from comparable discussions at meetings of public and private nonprofit colleges. The basic theme of the panelists and the for-profit college leaders in the audience at the New Orleans meeting was: “What’s the big deal? The government’s been holding us accountable for years. Deal with it.�

Well, not so fast there, for-profit and career-oriented colleges. This is something I know something about, though that knowledge is fairly small and rather indirect.

Between about 1990 and 1993, I worked in a variety of jobs (first as a temp office grunt, and then ultimately as a “public relations representative,” which was really a job as a tech writer and desktop publishing document designer), I worked for the Virginia Student Assistance Authority, which was a student loan guarantor and processor. Interestingly enough, when I did a search, I discovered that in 1998, the VSAA was abolished by the state of Virginia, I assume because in the mid to late 90s, the student loan business went from a lot of regional players to consolidated and national ones. But I digress slightly. Anyway, most of this work was before the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1992 which held for-profit and career-oriented colleges to the higher standard they are complaining about now.

Do you want to know why they are being held to this higher standard? Well, from what I recall from my brief time there, it was because there were too many for-profit and career-oriented college scams going on. These “educators” were setting up these schools in bartending or massage or whatever, charging a tuition that was just high enough to allow the students to be eligible for certain kinds of easily obtained loans (and by “students,” these schools meant anyone they could find who would be willing to sign up– people on the streets, etc.), cashing the checks, and folding up the tent within a couple years. It was, in short, a con.

Now, I realize that this might sound all elitist and all coming from me, a guy who teaches at one of these fancy-panted, sanctioned, traditional universities. But I think these schools that have (as a cohort) a reputation for fly-by-night practices ought to be held to a different standard. Regardless, it’s clear that the whole Spellings Commission thing has a long ways to go before that group figures out just what the hell to do, if they’re going to do anything at all.

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