by Jonathan Robe
has noticed five crucial problems with for-profit institutions: accreditation, transfer of credits, program costs, the admissions process and enrollment. These five issues, he said, can be summed up as a “lack of transparency.” “These problems, while they exist, are not clear to the student who is making the decision to enroll and commit thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars to these programs,” Howlett said.The problem with what Howlett is quoted as saying isn't that it is not correct; it's that it's only half the story. The "lack of transparency" problem is by no means unique to for-profits; it is a systemic problem throughout all of higher education, non-profit and for-profit alike. Every single one of the five elements Howlett gave as problems in the for-profit sector can also be given as problems with both the not-for-profit private and the public sectors.
This last point was brought home recently by Jorge Klor de Alva, a former president of the University of Phoenix who is currently running the NEXUS Research & Policy Center. According to Doug Lederman at InsideHigherEd, Klor de Alva discussed the subject of higher ed transparency at a meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. As Lederman puts it, there was
general agreement that for-profit colleges aren't the only ones that loathe relinquishing data about their performance ("If we were to rank who hoards information more, I'd begin with independent colleges, then for-profits, then publics -- but only because they're forced to" release it, Klor de Alva said).It's hard to say at this point exactly what the final result will be of all the recent public scrutiny of the for-profits, but if our calls for more transparency from colleges focuses only on one single sector to the exclusion of the others, we're missing the mark.