GAO bias evident in report on for-profit college industry

Last November, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) quietly issued a heavily edited and revised version of an earlier report they published that incorrectly criticized the for-profit college sector.  At the time, the GAO received significant criticism on their effort from media, education experts and other commentators. 

Critics pointed out the shoddy and unprofessional work originally put forth by the GAO, as well as the resulting damage it caused the for-profit college industry.  It was clear that many errors and misleading conclusions were retracted from the earlier study that was broadly touted. 


The best of 2010 should be a call to action for 2011

The New Year always brings about a plethora of lists. The previous year’s best and worst laid out for all the world to see. Companies vie for top billing in employee satisfaction and profits. Individuals compete head on for product innovation and revenue. Fortune, Forbes, and Fast Company all have a list. They are meant to be recognition for a job well done but they are even more valuable as a glimpse into the future. Yesterday’s success is tomorrows skill set in demand.

Inc. Magazine puts out their 30 Under 30 list, which is a look at America’s hippest young entrepreneurs and their companies. The bio’s detail how the idea came about, where they got the money, future plans and a bit about the company’s culture. It’s rather inspiring; America’s youngest, brightest, adventurous minds at work. It’s also an alarming look at the crooked, broken path from school to work.

This is the first full generation of Americans who have moved from kindergarten to college without any universal access to vocational skills. It was about sixteen years ago, after all, when school districts started moving “shop” off the main calendar and targeted those classes for certain kids. It was the time of NAFTA, Welfare to Work, School to Career, and the Workforce Investment Act. All of which played a part in encouraging community colleges to shift from technical training in favor of faster, less expensive coursework. It was when we decided that work – back-breaking, sweaty, America-building work - wasn’t good enough for our children.


For-profit regulations protect students and taxpayers

With bipartisan debt commissions unfurling proposals, newly-elected Tea Partiers headed for the Capitol, and Congress moving to keep Bush-era tax breaks, it’s clear that Washington needs to find cuts in the federal budget. With dollars more scarce, our country must rededicate itself to spending as wisely as possible.  

One area that politicians frequently pledge to attack is the unholy trinity of “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Identifying such wasteful spending is easier said than done – but not always.

The Obama administration proposed to act on two higher education programs where it was crystal clear that government money was not being spent prudently. Two industries, student loan companies and for-profit colleges, had become wealthy through federal largesse – and, to a large degree, at the expense of student and taxpayer interests.


Poor PISA performance requires radical curriculum rethink (Rep. Mike Honda)

While China's number one rankings in reading, science and math categories may ruffle America's competitiveness feathers, as witnessed in the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), our feathers have been ruffled before, by a host of higher performing nations. America continues to be outcompeted on the PISA. In this latest assessment, the U.S. moved little, scoring 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.

Before America slips further, we must retool our education system so that each child is equipped with the training and education needed to reach their maximum potential. Good schools will give back to America through innovation, investment and intellect - key components of any economic recovery process.


Empty promises: Many for-profit colleges lead students into debt with no diploma (Sen. Tom Harkin)

For-profit colleges have seen explosive growth in recent years. Top executives had been rewarded handsomely, and shareholders have received great dividends. But for students at for-profit colleges, it has been a very different story. Despite enticing promises of a diploma followed by a good job, the majority of students withdraw without graduating, with few employment prospects, and in most cases a load of debt that could follow them the rest of their lives.


Career colleges fulfill a vital role in the American education system (Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns)

Career colleges or private for-profit schools of higher learning are often the choice of students looking to enhance specific skills that will improve their marketability for employment. Students attending career colleges are generally low-income working people looking to boost their human capital so that they might earn more to better care for themselves and their families.


In defense of the Department of Education

I was extremely disappointed to read in the Washington Examiner last month that incoming House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is wondering why we have a federal Department of Education.  In his editorial (, the Congressman wrote:

“Across the country, many have begun to wonder why we have a federal Department of Education at all.  What makes us think that bureaucrats in Washington, DC can manage our classrooms and prepare our children for success any more effectively than qualified teachers and engaged local school boards?”


Economic prosperity and national security through the DREAM Act

Even in tough times, Americans have used their freedom, common sense and respect for one another to do the right thing for the nation. Today, we face one of those times. There are thousands of hard-working, patriotic, young people who are leaders in their communities and who are looking for an opportunity to attend college or serve our country in the military, but they cannot, through no fault of their own. Congress has the opportunity to offer them and our country a brighter future by coming together in a bipartisan way to pass the DREAM Act.


Redefining the federal role in public education (Rep. Mike Honda)

One of the challenges confronting education policy makers is staying connected to the grassroots. This is not only important for political purposes, but, most importantly, for policy implementation. What sounds great in the cloakrooms on Capitol Hill, or the conference rooms of D.C. policy shops, sometimes does not work on the ground. As a former high school teacher and principal, I am particularly sensitive to this dynamic, which is why I got back into the community again last week, visited schools across the nation and spoke with some of the folks who are making it happen.


The youth agenda

American populism is back, evidenced by the midterm tour-de-force of voters concerned with unemployment and government spending.  While these voters mostly backed extremely conservative candidates, both Democrats and Republicans tried winning them over by claiming to be the party of ‘the people.’  True stewards of the economic justice, however, would do well to take a serious look at the plight of young people and how substantial investments in opportunities for youth success can save our nation’s prosperity both now and for decades to come.  There are several pieces of the youth agenda that Congress can pass in the next few weeks and in the 112th Congress that uplift the underrepresented communities that saved Democrats’ seats and maintain the fiscal responsibility championed by Republicans.