Monday, June 14, 2010

For-profit colleges draw attention from regulators and millions of students

A year ago, Joseph Carrillo Jr. had to fight to get into crowded classes here at the public American River College. He couldn't find a guidance counselor, and he felt lost. So he switched to the private University of Phoenix. There, everything fell into place -- at 17 times the cost.

Carrillo's move from the community college to the for-profit university shows the allure of a higher-education sector that is growing so fast the federal government wants to rein it in. The 24-year-old, who hopes to own a business someday, said he was impressed by the ease of course scheduling at his new school and unconcerned about future debt. "What good is cheap tuition if classes are so packed you can't even get in?" he asked.

But Congress and the Obama administration are concerned. For-profit schools may be offering an educational alternative, but that choice often comes with crushing student debt, some observers say.

New federal rules, expected to be formally proposed in coming days, would tighten oversight of the industry. One much-debated proposal would cut federal aid to for-profit schools in certain cases if graduates spend more than 8 percent of their starting salaries to repay loans. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also plans this month to begin hearings on the industry, examining recruiting practices and student loan default rates.

Supporters of the schools say the proposed rules could shut down hundreds of programs, undermining President Obama's goal of making the nation the world leader in college completion by 2020.

"It will have a horrendous effect on programs in California and nationally," said Harris N. Miller, president of the Career College Association, which represents more than 1,400 for-profit schools. The association, which wields some clout in Congress, is mobilizing to fight the proposal.

Nationwide, enrollment in for-profit colleges soared from 673,000 in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2008. The growth has been fueled in California and some other states by discounts and incentives the schools offer to help students apply credits earned online toward community college degrees.

For-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Kaplan University (owned by Kaplan, a subsidiary of The Washington Post) offer professional, vocational and technical training and serve a large number of minority, low-income and first-generation college students. But they face federal scrutiny and lawsuits for burying some students under mountains of debt.

Federal aid to for-profit colleges jumped to $26.5 billion in 2009, from $4.6 billion in 2000. Two-thirds of for-profit students receive federal Pell grants, which target low-income students and don't have to be repaid. Even so, more than half of bachelor-degree recipients in 2007 at for-profit schools fell into a "high debt" range of at least $30,000 in loans, a recent College Board study found.

"These schools lay it all out for students with Pell grants and student loans," said Stan Jones, president of a nonprofit organization called Complete College America. Students, he said, "don't feel like they are paying for anything, but it's really just like a credit card for higher education."

For-profit colleges rely more on federal aid than many other higher-education institutions. The aid helps offset tuition at for-profit schools, which averaged $14,174 in 2009, according to the College Board. The average for two-year state schools was $2,544.

California is in the vanguard of a movement toward cooperation between overstretched community colleges and for-profit schools. Its community college system, with nearly 3 million students, has the nation's lowest tuition: $26 per credit. Carrillo's credits at an outlet of the University of Phoenix near here cost $450 apiece. But community colleges in this state are so crowded that officials don't discourage students from attending for-profit schools or enrolling in their online courses to satisfy degree requirements.

For-profit enrollment surged more than 20 percent in California last year, while the state's 112 cash-strapped community colleges were reducing course offerings, canceling summer school and turning away up to half of applicants. An estimated 8,800 students, including Carrillo, transferred from the state's two-year schools to the University of Phoenix.

While the Obama administration seeks to increase oversight of for-profit schools, it acknowledges their significant role. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month urged the sector "to get rid of bad actors." But Duncan added: "Among the for-profits, phenomenal players are out there making a huge difference in helping people take the next step in the economic ladder."


Exposed: British schools inflating their High School results

SCHOOLS are inflating their league table scores by entering pupils for “easier” vocational qualifications, previously secret government data have shown.

For the first time, the figures show separately the proportion of children gaining good grades at GCSEs and those gaining the grades in less academic alternatives. Until now, official league tables have combined the two, obscuring the difference between schools that are more or less academic.

One school where the difference in performance is joint first is St Hugh’s Church of England maths and computing college, a secondary modern in Grantham, Lincolnshire. There, 39% of pupils gained five GCSEs or equivalent last year under the official indicator, but that figure falls to just 1% when only GCSEs are counted. The gap in results reaches at least 20 percentage points in 15 English schools. Three of them are academies, a linchpin of the government’s education reforms.

Critics accuse schools of pushing some academically bright pupils into taking unsuitable vocational exams to boost their league position. Anastasia De Waal, deputy director of research at Civitas, the think tank, described the differences as “staggering”. She added: “There are people saying they have turned round failing schools, but they have been doing all these so-called equivalents and hiding behind lack of transparency.”

Critics believe many vocational qualifications, although they are valuable, are given far too high a weighting in league tables — for example, a GNVQ in information and communication technology is equivalent to four GCSEs.

The government has promised to overhaul league tables and plans to publish all results for schools rather than the current measure given most prominence — the proportion of children gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent, including English and maths.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “We need to restore confidence in the exam system. It is important that young people are entered for the qualifications that are in their best interests rather than being entered for exams simply to boost the league table position of the school.”

Schools making heavy use of vocational courses, including St Hugh’s, insisted they were the right choice for pupils. Those in Lincolnshire, where three of the 10 schools with the biggest differences are located, also attributed the high numbers to local grammar schools taking academically bright pupils.

Chris Walls, head teacher of Giles school in Boston, said: “We need to move beyond this preoccupation with sieving children. [Exams] should be about celebrating what children have learnt.”


British writers demand return of Latin to curriculum to end Labour's 'discrimination' against classics

The sound of 'amo, amas, amat' being chanted by children learning Latin has long since faded from most of our classrooms. But not, perhaps, for much longer. A group of writers and broadcasters including Ian Hislop and Sir Tom Stoppard is calling for the return of Latin to the curriculum.

They are urging ministers to end Labour's 'discrimination' against the language of the Romans and give it the same status as French, German and Spanish.

They are backing a report, published today, by two Oxford University classics scholars which makes the case for a revival of Latin in primary and secondary schools. The experts say that studying Latin not only makes it easier for children to pick up other languages, it also improves their English and maths.

Those who learn Latin at primary school use more complex sentences and have a wider vocabulary than those who don't, it is claimed. They are also better at problem-solving and logical thinking.

The report, by the Politeia think-tank, calls on Education Secretary Michael Gove to give Latin the same status as modern foreign languages in primary schools. They should be able to choose to teach it in the same way they can offer French, German, Spanish, Urdu or Arabic.

Labour specified that primaries should teach only modern languages when it issued guidance to heads on fulfilling a new duty to ensure seven-year-olds learn a foreign language.

A statement has been signed by ten writers, broadcasters or teachers including Hislop, the Private Eye editor and a panellist on the BBC quiz Have I Got News For You, playwright Sir Tom and Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter. It says: 'We ask that the new Secretary of State gives Latin the same opportunity and official blessing as other foreign languages in the curriculum.'

An Education Department spokesman said Latin is 'an important subject', but is not classified in the national curriculum as a modern language because pupils 'are not able to interact with native Latin speakers'.


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