Two Illinois community college leaders today joined the chorus of voices raising concerns over taxpayer support for proprietary (for-profit) colleges through state and federal financial aid programs.
Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Vice-Chair Suzanne Morris and College of Lake County President Dr. Jerry Weber were among a large group of higher education professionals and interested parties to participate in a forum concerning for-profit colleges sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin in Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Building. Morris submitted written testimony and Weber spoke during the panel discussion.
“While for-profit educational endeavors may have their place within the educational opportunities available to prospective students, public funding of such institutions through tuition subsidies diverts critical funding from those institutions charged with providing a quality public education,” Morris said in her statement.
Weber acknowledged that for-profit schools have heightened competition, encouraged innovation and increased the variety of programming offered by higher education. However, he said some of these schools “use tax-supported financial aid, in the form of both grants and loans, essentially to duplicate, at much higher cost to students—as much as eight times higher, programs that are already available, particularly at community colleges.”
Not only are taxpayers at risk for student defaults on these loans, Weber said, but the students themselves often do not know that they have other, more affordable options at community colleges that are close to home.
“Some for-profits are unfairly employing online marketing, combined with aggressive recruitment, to lure students who are unaware of how higher education operates and what their options actually are,” he said.
Citing online websites that purport to offer general information on college options but link to for-profit schools, Weber urged the U.S. Department of Education to issue guidelines requiring full disclosure of the identity and intent of for-profit websites. He also called for proprietary school recruiters to disclose the full array of higher education options open to students.
“We need a laser-sharp focus on federal and state resources to provide cost-effective education that leads to gainful employment, not dreams deferred or destroyed by a pile of unnecessary debt,” he said.
In her testimony, Morris argued that for most students, community colleges provide the best option for achieving an education without incurring huge debt.
“Despite the economic downturn, for the first two years of baccalaureate study, and for a two-year career degree or certificate, community colleges continue to offer the least expensive means for students to achieve these levels of educational attainment,” she said.
ICCB Chairman Guy Alongi said, “We appreciate the effort that Sen. Durbin made in hosting this forum. This is an issue that deserves the attention that the Senator is bringing to it.”