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Albright: Trump U And Beyond

When allegations surfaced recently that Donald Trump’s for-profit school made fraudulent claims, employed poor teachers, and exploited vulnerable students, the media pounced. But as damning as the testimony by the school’s former employees may - or may not - turn out be for the presumed GOP front runner, we may be missing the bigger picture about for-profit education. It’s become a goliath of an industry, and so far it’s largely unregulated.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other news outlets, has been investigating this wild, wild west of academia. One article, headlined “Education Department Suspends Student-Aid Eligibility for Dozens of For-Profit Programs” reports on 26 for-profit schools in California, Nevada, and Illinois accused of awarding federal aid based on invalid high school diplomas, and also of touting false job placement rates. Those students can no longer get federal financial aid. They, more than the schools, are the big losers.

In another headline, “13 State Attorneys General Say Accreditor’s Recognition Should Be Revoked.” That story cites critics of the agency that accredited a number of sketchy for-profit schools, including the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. But if that accreditation agency can’t be trusted, what federal watchdog is allowed to investigate it? Not the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal judge said recently.

Meanwhile, shareholders in for-profit schools appear to be reaping rewards, even though many students are not getting all they were promised. And as publicly held companies get sold to private investors, they become even harder for watchdogs and reporters to investigate.

There’s a glimmer of good news, though, for students at two schools owned by the billion-dollar Apollo Education Group. As of July 1, those schools will have to stop including mandatory arbitration clauses in student enrollment agreements. So now, if students believe they’ve been defrauded, they can sue. But it doesn’t take a PhD to figure out which side will likely have the more highly paid lawyers.

And while it’s true that some for-profit programs are legit, a number of legislatures are passing laws to protect students from the bad apples, even before they set up shop in their states. Maybe that’s something for Vermont to consider, no matter who gets elected this fall.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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