For-Profit Colleges Attack Community Colleges: Marketing Ploy or True Facts?

Community colleges are under siege from for-profit colleges. Learn about the lawsuits and reports and whether the claims are fact or fiction.
For-profit colleges seem to face an uphill battle these days, both on campus and on Capitol Hill. Enrollment, which skyrocketed during the heat of the recession, is beginning to plummet. Some surveys are showing students from for-profit colleges unhappy with the education they received vs. the money they paid. Some for-profit colleges are even facing class-action suits for misleading advertising or an inability to deliver on their promises.
 
Perhaps it should be no surprise that these institutions are turning on their community college counterparts, releasing a recent survey conducted by Norton/Norris Inc. that found similar complaints with community colleges. The results of this survey were published on Business Wire and report that community colleges are also purportedly dealing in unsavory recruitment practices and providing low quality in terms of education. The results were released just prior to the summit on community colleges hosted by the White House earlier this month.
 
What the Numbers Show
 
The Norton/Norris survey found a lack of transparency in reporting important information like graduation rates, employment rates and pass rates on certification examinations. The survey also found:

  • Community colleges are not living up to their expectations in terms of course availability, relevance of coursework and schedule flexibility.
  • The colleges are not providing high quality education in their academic offerings.
  • Many students leave community colleges due to family issues, lack of availability of courses and concerns about the quality of education.

Dr. Jean Norris, lead researcher on the study, told Business Wire, "At a time when community colleges are being touted as the answer for educational achievement and job placement in this country, we found troubling evidence to the contrary. Community colleges are deliberately and callously misleading potential students, then under-serving them once they are in their schools."
 
What the Numbers Really Mean
 
While Dr. Norris's statement and the results of the survey may be distressing to some potential community college students, it is important to look at the full picture before making a final determination of the value of community colleges.
 
First, the survey was conducted by a marketing firm working for the Coalition for Educational Success, an advocacy group for several for-profit colleges, according to a report in USA Today. Second, the group that conducted the survey admits to some flaws in their approach, including the fact that the student sample used was one based on convenience and may not provide a full view of community colleges held by all students.
 
Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison told USA Today, "We can't call this research. The for-profits are under attack and this report is being paid for by non-profits. We need to be asking many of these questions, but a report like this one isn't providing meaningful answers."
 
By the same token, problems associated with for-profit institutions may very well be apparent in other types of colleges as well. Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) said at the recent Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing, "I agree there is clearly a problem in higher education – now you'll notice I didn't limit that comment to for-profit schools. It's nave to think these problems are limited to just the for-profit sector. We've been looking at this in a vacuum."
 
The Community College Threat
 
Many in the education sector agree that for-profit institutions are trying to discredit community colleges due to the attention they have received from the current administration. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, President Obama has called community colleges the "unsung heroes of America's education system" and has been willing to pledge plenty of stimulus money into these institutions to train a new kind of American workforce. President Obama signed legislation in March to provide $2 billion to community colleges over four years with the goal of increasing graduation rates and preparing students for today's workforce more effectively.
 
The bias against community colleges isn't just restricted to the press. The Sun Sentinel reports that for-profit colleges are beginning to bring lawsuits against community colleges on the basis that these public campuses are breaking commitments to their students. In one particular suit, Keiser University sued a Jacksonville community college, Florida State College, claiming administrators maligned the for-profit school. It also accused Florida State College of launching a smear campaign against Keiser and other for-profit colleges.
 
While the debate between community and for-profit colleges continues to rage, there is a silver lining to consider. As more focus is placed on the entire realm of higher education, students can't help but benefit. When problems are brought to the attention of the general public and lawmakers, it does appear that positive change may be the next logical step in the process.

Additional Resources [+]
Community Colleges Leak Private Information: How to Protect Yourself
Community Colleges Leak Private Information: How to Protect Yourself
Community Colleges Fight Back Against For-Profit Attacks: The Rebuttal
Community Colleges Fight Back Against For-Profit Attacks: The Rebuttal
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