(Witch)Hunting For-Profit Universities
I am shocked by the new GAO report on for-profit universities. I am shocked not because they found bad behavior (not that hard to find in any sector of higher ed), but that this study was conducted by an arm of the government. The big problems fall into two categories.
First, the GAO looked into the type of activities (grading of students, plagiarism policies) at for-profits that would have justifiably elicited cries of bloody murder had they done the same thing at public or non-profit universities. Going off Paul Fain’s story
Investigators began by scrutinizing the enrollment process, with students attempting to enroll with bogus high school diplomas. Only three were denied entry.
My glib point: Guess who else admits students with fake credentials? Harvard.
My more serious point: It has long been the policy of government that enrollment decisions were one of three or four key decisions to be left to universities without government interference other than to enforce anti-discrimination laws (two others are curriculum and faculty employment and promotion decisions). If it is now an accepted role of the government to determine enrollment procedures for colleges, I recommend we transition to lottery acceptance for Ivy league colleges, just like we do for many oversubscribed charter schools.
The article continues:
Once admitted, the GAO students tested instructors by intentionally performing poorly in classes…
The GAO students often plagiarized material for assignments, and instructors at two colleges took no action to remove students after catching instances of plagiarism…
So the government is now involved in assessing the quality of evaluation and grading as well as determining the acceptability of procedures for dealing with plagiarism. I don’t care how poorly students are evaluated, how unfair grading is, or what the policy on plagiarism is any classroom in the country – without an actual law being broken there is absolutely no excuse for the government to get involved in any of it. There isn’t a professor in the country, regardless of whether they teach at a public, non-profit or for-profit, that wouldn’t be outraged by the government dictating how we are to punish plagiarism.
My second big problem is that this whole series of investigations is looking more and more like a witch-hunt. The public arguably does have in interest in knowing what goes on in colleges. But the exclusive focus on for-profits is proof that this is not the goal of these investigations. The main purpose appears to be to slander the entire sector with guilt by association with the misbehaving colleges among them. Keep these words in mind:
where institutions abuse their public trust, correction ought to be aimed at the institution that has abused that trust rather than at the rest of us through another general wide-ranging regulation.
That’s not a quote from some for-profit PR hack, but rather from the President of St. John’s College.