Some 10 years ago, then-President Barack Obama’s Department of Education declared war on private for-profit career colleges. Now President Biden’s administration is working on finishing the job and putting these schools out of business.
The highly subsidized public colleges and universities didn’t like the competition from institutions that educate and train hundreds of thousands of middle-and lower-income Americans in practical vocations such as nursing, accounting, mechanics, computer programming and other technical skills, to name a few.
It is true that not all students succeed in these career colleges, but the majority do graduate with practical skills to land high-paying jobs. According to a Gallup Study in 2018, graduates of career colleges, on average, earned 60% more in personal income than before they attended a private career college.
I served on the board of three of these nonprofit colleges. Formerly, they were for-profit institutions, which are anathema to some in higher education. They said our schools were too expensive, yet most public and private four-year college tuitions now reach well over $50,000 at many schools.
Three of the colleges that have been victimized and now destroyed by the Biden administration are Independence University, CollegeAmerica, and Stevens Henager College (established in 1914), all owned by the nonprofit Center for Excellence in Higher Education. The Department of Education forced the colleges to close by suddenly and arbitrarily cutting off all federal loans and grants for eligible students. Even though the colleges spent $50 million in reserve funds to help students continue their education, the money ran out.
Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris promised to “crackdown” on (i.e., cripple and close) these institutions, and they are ruthlessly doing so. Prominent lawmakers, including Rep. Maxine Waters and Sens. Dick Durbin and Elizabeth Warren, repeatedly assail the for-profit model. They routinely accuse for-profit colleges of being “unscrupulous,” “preying on the poor,” “saddling students with debt” and other slanders. They want all education to be government-run and taxpayer-funded. The Biden administration pushes “free” community college, which would further destroy and essentially replace its competitor: private career colleges.
The truth is that private career colleges provide more significant benefits to students and society than do community colleges. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, private career colleges have a 51.7% median graduation rate; community colleges graduate less than half — only 26% of students graduate. Graduation is the desired outcome and critical measurement.
Moreover, according to the same Gallup study, graduates are more likely to quickly find good jobs upon graduation than their peers in community colleges and other public colleges: 50% found good jobs within six months of graduation vs. 29% of peers at other colleges, and 64% are employed full-time vs. 55% of their peers.
Private career colleges have programs in specialized, high-demand industries. For instance, the now-closed Independence University offered the largest and only online respiratory therapy degree program in the world (along with brick-and-mortar nursing and surgical technologist programs). A stunning 90% of graduates found employment, with average starting salaries running between $60,000 and $80,000. Amid a national shortage of health care workers (particularly respiratory therapists), these are the kinds of professions where we now see severe labor shortages. As these colleges are closed, it will become worse. Already, over half of these private career colleges have closed.
It may be too late to revive the colleges that I helped found. But this ongoing war on for-profit schools doesn’t benefit the students who attend them, taxpayers, nor the American economy that desperately needs skilled workers. The campaign to cripple and close private career colleges is continuing. My colleges and Independent University and their students will not be the last victims.
• Carl Barney is chair emeritus of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education.