For-Profit Higher Education and Civil Rights

Higher education, for many, represents what a high school diploma used to mean – access to job opportunities, a secure ticket to the middle class, and expanded earning potential. All of the promises of higher education have led to tremendous growth in for-profit colleges (think schools like The University of Phoenix, DeVry, and Corinthian College) promising to provide skills training and bachelors degrees to students who want and need them.

And yet, it’s becoming clear that these companies are potentially causing more problems than they are solving. The Government Accountability Office recently conducted an investigation of about a dozen for-profit colleges and found that

Undercover tests at 15 for-profit colleges found that 4 colleges encouraged fraudulent practices and that all 15 made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to GAO’s undercover applicants. Four undercover applicants were encouraged by college personnel to falsify their financial aid forms to qualify for federal aid–for example, one admissions representative told an applicant to fraudulently remove $250,000 in savings. Other college representatives exaggerated undercover applicants’ potential salary after graduation and failed to provide clear information about the college’s program duration, costs, or graduation rate despite federal regulations requiring them to do so.

The report notes in the introduction that for-profit colleges have grown from about 365,000 students to almost 1.8 million in the last several years. Consumer rights are a civil rights issue – according to The Wall Street Journal, these colleges admittedly target low income students, first generation Americans, and communities of color. Protecting these populations should be a priority of higher-education reform.