A recent Gallup study revealed that from veterans' perspectives, private sector colleges do a better job of serving veterans than public and nonprofit colleges, which counters U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) recent argument that for-profit colleges “prey” upon vets.
“I don’t know what motivates Durbin, especially since community colleges have way worse graduation rates than even for-profit colleges, despite the subsidies,” Neil McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, recently told Higher Education Tribune.
McCluskey does not deny that for-profit colleges have their own challenges.
“As for-profit colleges continue to take rhetorical, legal and financial beatings, it is worth putting into context who their students are,” McCluskey said. “Generally speaking, the most challenging demographics are disproportionately older, minority and low-income people.”
McCluskey explained that for-profit colleges do not get subsidies from the government, so they are driven more directly by competition, which for some reason makes people uncomfortable. There is an animosity toward profit-making, especially in education.
“When you don’t consider the context of how little support for-profit colleges get, and people look at these colleges superficially, it looks like many of them are not providing students with what they need to survive, but you cannot accuse the entire system for something a few bad actors have done in the past,” he said.
McCluskey also explained that public colleges have their issues as well, but they are not nearly as criticized.
“There is nothing easier or seemingly more popular in higher education than bashing openly for-profit colleges,” he said. “If you burrow into the demographic and funding weeds, however, you’ll see that proprietary schools are likely no worse, as a whole, than any other sector of uber-subsidized higher ed.”
McCluskey mentioned the Gallup study in a recent article published by the Cato Institute.
“When veterans rank how well they feel their schools understood their needs, the percentage giving a 4 or 5 – the top scores – to for-profit schools beats any other sector; and at just the 5 level only, nonprofit private institutions surpass them,” McCluskey said. “Comparing for-profit and public schools, for-profits get more 4s and 5s by a 15 percentage point margin.”
McCluskey argues that for-profit colleges help veterans and other non-traditional students because they provide multiple locations and the possibility of taking classes online. They also offer more classes after work hours, for those who have to work from 9 to 5 during the week. For-profit colleges also seem to be more flexible in working with problems specific to veterans and are more flexible in helping them adjust.
“Of course, for-profit colleges do not always have great outcomes,” he said. “They cost a lot of money, have poor completion rates and their students often incur sizable debt. But next time you hear how awful they are, keep in mind how their student bodies stack up against the nonprofit sectors: they are much more challenging to work with, consisting to far greater degrees of the marginalized people federal policy is supposed to be helping. Maybe it’s time to look somewhere else for the biggest problem in higher education.”
McCluskey explained that there is also significant profit produced by all colleges and universities, and in most cases for-profit colleges are more honest about where the money goes, which is distributed among investors. Public colleges also make a profit, but it usually goes back into the system (professors and building maintenance, etc.) rather than investors, but there is plenty of evidence that money allocations in public colleges are not always honest.
“In reality, it is safe to say that no sector of education, whether public, nonprofit or private sector, is getting a bang for their buck,” McCluskey said.
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