New Report Slams For-Profit Colleges
About the Harkin Report
The report, dubbed the Harkin Report after its primary author, is a voluminous write-up of nearly 250 pages that details the operations of 30 for-profit institutions around the country, according to Inside Higher Ed. The investigation, which took two years to complete, was headed by Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa. The report was issued by the Democratic Majority and the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The report also found that for-profit institutions spend an unusually high amount of their resources to “non-education spending,” which includes marketing and profit-sharing. The study showed that 22.4 percent of resources went to marketing campaigns and another 19.4 percent went to profit-sharing. By the same token, only 17.7 percent of the budget at these institutions went to pay for instruction.
High Tuition Rates
Tuition rates at for-profit schools is much higher than that at community colleges or public universities. The Washington Post compared average costs between institutions and found that for-profits charged around $15,000 more for a certificate program, $26,000 more for a two-year program and $10,000 more for a four-year program than non-profit, public schools.
Lack of Accreditation
In some cases, the study found that programs at for-profits did not have accreditation, even if the school was accredited. There were anecdotal reports included in the study and reported by the Huffington Post, of students who did not realize their programs were not accredited until they actually completed their studies and tried to get a job in their field. This lack of accreditation was not made clearly known to students at the time they enrolled in the program.
Cost to Taxpayers
While for-profit schools boast that they do not use taxpayer dollars to fund their programs, that is not entirely true. According to the report, these for-profit schools have the highest percentage of students seeking financial aid to fund their studies. While community colleges only have 13 percent of their student population borrowing to pay tuition costs, and public universities have 48 percent of their student population seeking federal aid, for-profit schools have 96 percent of their students receiving some sort of financial aid. Since this includes primarily Pell grants and student loans that taxpayers help fund, the bite out of the taxpayer’s pocket for these schools is actually larger than one might think.
How to Fix the Problems
The Harkin Report did more than simply list the problems found with for-profit schools; it also provided recommendations on how those issues could be fixed. Some of the recommendations from this report include:
“Accrediting agencies have been overwhelmed by the rapid growth of the non-traditional educational organizations, whose size and methods of education are unfamiliar and demand different protocols of assessment,” the report was quoted as saying at Inside Higher Ed.
The report also recommended stricter federal rules governing for-profits. This might include better collection of student data and tying federal aid for students at the school to student outcomes. Other problems at some of these institutions that could be addressed through federal standards include methods of student recruitment, low retention rates and credentials with little or no value.
For-Profits Here to Stay
Despite the many problems cited with for-profits today, the Harkin Report does acknowledge that these institutions will be around for the long haul, and they will continue to play a significant role in the shaping of higher education in the future. For that reason, the report stresses the need for higher standards and firmer guidelines that would ensure students that attend these institutions would get the quality of education they expect.