in Houston, Texas
Bill requires state to collect more data on for-profit schools
Friday, Jun 10, 2011, 02:34PM CST
By Kevin Lee
graduation cap

For-profit and career colleges located in Texas would be subject to the same data collection and transparency standards that state universities and colleges are held to under Senate Bill 1534 awaiting the governor’s signature, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

SB 1534 would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to include those trade schools on its online accountability system, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which reported on the legislation this Thursday. Currently, the system records information like graduation rates and research spending for state universities, state health institutions, state colleges, state technical colleges and community colleges. The bill also requires for-profit schools to post to their websites the names of any regulatory agencies that oversee them, and the process for filing complaints.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the new rules would help protect students:

Students "were getting stuck between a rock and hard place," Shapiro said, explaining how she was moved to act after watching a news report about investigations into for-profit schools. "There was nobody paying attention."

WFAA-TV in Dallas reported last year about a chain of for-profit trade colleges called ATI, whose students complained that they were promised well-paying jobs in fields such as welding and maintenance but were left with thousands of dollars in debt and dim job prospects. The Texas Workforce Commission later announced it had found ATI to be in violation of state rules governing job placement, the station reported this April. The state cut off a stream of state funding to the school and required the for-profit college system to submit records electronically and hire a third-party auditor to verify job placement numbers.

ATI and other trade schools and for-profits lobby Austin through their Career Colleges and Schools of Texas PAC, which has donated $12,000 to Gov. Rick Perry since 2000, as well as a number of mostly Republican lawmakers.

The federal government has clamped down on for-profit schools, which siphon off billions of dollars in taxpayer money through federal grants.

Institutions that provide career training programs would have to comply with new rules aimed at keeping student debt in check and finalized by the U.S. Department of Education last week or lose federal funding.

While the regulations would be applied to certificate programs across-the-board, the federal agency noted that while students at for-profit schools represent 12 percent of all higher education students, they represent 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default.

In 2009, for-profit college systems received $24 billion in federal support while their admission rates continue to swell, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last summer.

The GAO sent undercover applicants to 15 for-profit college systems to study admission standards. At four schools, school staff encouraged undercover applicants to provide false information in order to qualify for financial aid, the GAO said. The applicants also observed school personnel providing unclear information on fundamental matters such as tuition costs, program duration and graduation rates.

***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or news@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of graduation cap by flickr user Shoshanah, used via a Creative Commons license.

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