Higher Ed – Widening the Gap

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photoThe fact that places like Harvard and other colleges like it devote research and project funding to closing the high school achievement gap confirms that this is not a problem up for discussion.  It’s real.  It exists, and confirming data has been available for a while.  Colleges, universities, K-12 agencies, and K-12 schools have been working hard to address these issues in concrete ways. Maybe that’s why when I read Kevin Quealy’s article, “Changing the Rules at For-Profit Schools,” I felt, and continue to feel, extremely frustrated.

The federal government currently provides Stafford loans to students taking courses and acquiring degrees through for-profit colleges and universities (e.g., Kaplan University).  Quealy writes: “Students at for-profits take out more debt than their peers at traditional schools and default at much higher rates; they also account for about 9 percent of students but receive 24 percent of Stafford federal loans.”  Therein lies the problem for the federal government.

The federal government wants to hold the universities accountable by requiring them to prove they’re preparing students for available jobs that’ll allow them to pay off their loans.  If this situation can’t be righted, the federal government may stop loaning students money to fund their attendance.

Based on the data provided, it’s clear that those disproportionately affected will be “. . . minorities, first-generation college students and the poor . . .”

I wish the article had provided more information on those who might be affected.  For example, I’d like to know how many of the students are working full- or nearly full-time while pursuing their degrees.  How many are working on their degrees in the hopes that they won’t need to work as many jobs as they may already be working just to fund the degrees they’re pursuing?  It’s hard not to think that maybe those who are affected are people who have to take out the loans, who don’t have the family support that those attending “traditional” colleges and universities have.

It feels like another punch in the gut for those who are trying to do what we’re always encouraging, namely, get a college or professional degree.

How do we work harder to crack this nut? How can it be okay to consider cutting the federal student loan program for for-profit schools?  Why can’t non-profit and public colleges and universities bear some of the load, even if they’ve got a lower percentage of attendees who don’t default?  How can we dig deeper with the data, so that we learn more about those who are defaulting to find out what else is going on?

How much of this is about perception?  If you’re competing against someone with a degree from a non-profit or public university, and you’re holding  a degree from a for-profit institution, can you compete equally?  If not, how can you earn the money required to pay off your loans, especially in an economy where there are fewer jobs available?

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