Biased Committee Report Not HELPful in Higher Ed Debate
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The HELP Committee report issued today is a disappointing re-treading of old arguments in a now-familiar years-long effort to demonize one of the most innovative parts of our higher education system, the for-profit schools. The Committee report re-hashes old arguments and strings together mere assertions and conclusory statements in support of dubious conclusions.
As the minority staff views contained in the report make clear, the report is, at best, biased, which calls into question most of the report’s findings.
It is worth noting that even amid the fusillade of criticisms in the report, there reside in it nonetheless a few nuggets of truth, including the accurate statement that the for-profit schools "offer the convenience of nearby campus and online locations, a structured approach to coursework and the flexibility to stop and start classes quickly and easily. These innovations have made attending college a viable option for many working adults, and have proven successful for hundreds of thousands of people who might not otherwise have obtained degrees."
In addition, while the Committee’s report notes that tuition at for-profit institutions is typically higher than at public institutions, it fails to note that public colleges and universities are heavily subsidized by state and local taxpayers. This naturally and purposefully results in lower tuition costs compared to any private school, including non-profit private institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for private four-year institutions is more than 100% higher than their public counterparts—a far higher premium than the 19% increase at for-profit institutions cited by the Committee. Similarly, the tuition rates cited in the report for associate degree and certificate programs are each comparable to those found at any private institution.
It can only be hoped that this latest installment is also the last. There are many issues of importance that the HELP Committee should examine. Next Congress, the Higher Education Act will have to be reauthorized. The U.S. Chamber urges the Committee to forgo dubious and tainted investigations, and instead work in a bipartisan fashion to address issues that really matter to Americans: reducing college costs, increasing completion rates, and increasing transparency and providing more data to students and parents. That is an agenda that should be applied to all sectors of higher education, and one that unites – rather than divides – policymakers, business leaders, and the entire higher education community alike.