The Kansas Board of Regents is right to be concerned about the increasing number of students who are choosing to attend for-profit colleges instead of state-supervised universities, community colleges and vocational-technical schools.
There is no reason the Kansas higher education system can’t provide what a large proportion of those students are looking for — and at a lower cost.
A recent report based on an investigation by the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found a number of problems with for-profit schools. The report concludes that these schools receive $30 billion a year in taxpayer funds and pay exorbitant salaries to their chief executives. Although they charge high tuition and often use misleading tactics to recruit students, they also have extremely low graduation rates. In short, they aren’t a good deal either for taxpayers or students.
At their retreat last week, several Kansas regents asked whether the state’s public higher education institutions were doing enough to recruit students who are attending for-profit colleges. The president of Wichita State University pointed out that many of those students weren’t academically qualified to attend a state university and “are needing remediation.”
That may be true, but it is no reason to throw in the towel on this student population.
A guiding principle for the state has been to provide a “seamless” system of higher education. That starts with preparing high school students for post-graduation education or a range of training programs that should be readily available and easily accessible. If they want to pursue a university degree but need some academic “remediation,” they should be able to obtain that at one of the state’s many community colleges.
As Regent Ed McKechnie pointed out, “They are potential customers and taxpayers. If they don’t fit us, that’s not their problem; that’s our problem.”
It makes sense, as some officials suggested, to contact some students of for-profit schools and ask what drove their choice. Could they not meet admission requirements elsewhere, or was it more a matter of convenience or the ability to access a particularly attractive program? Once the state gathers some information, it may have a better idea how to serve these students.
It may not be possible for the state to meet every higher education or training need in the state, but the continued ability of expensive for-profit schools to attract students suggests the state could be doing a better job.