Monday, November 08, 2010

Serving the Interest of the Public (Sector)

by Daniel L. Bennett

Kevin Kuzma over at the Career College Central blog was recently in DC to attend the Department of Education's "public hearings" concerning the highly controversial gainful employment regulations. Kevin writes:
All of the hearings were held at the Barnard Auditorium, which felt more like an expansive corporate meeting room than a hall. Actually, there was just as much insight in being there and seeing how the department presents itself, publicly, as there was in the spoken comments. The DOE's organizational mission statement was literally on full display in the main lobby, but its execution was another matter.
The apparent lavishness of the ED facilities aside, Kevin points out that:
"The DOE's mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access."
and suggests that
For the better part of three hours, we'd heard people who had traveled from across the nation berate the rule because it prevented access to higher education to people who need it most. Those last few words are in direct defiance of what the department will accomplish with the gainful employment rule and contradicts the philosophy the organization was established to abide by.

The DOE has apparently taken on a new mission: to steer Americans away from for-profit schools and toward community colleges. Whatever its intentions are, it's clear "equal access" is no longer a concern.
I agree with much of Kevin's assessment. Since taking office, the Obama Administration has repeated the rhetoric that its goal is to make the US the global leader in college attainment (a questionable goal in itself), yet its policies and attitude toward the for-profit sector are counterproductive towards achieving that goal. States are flat broke and the federal deficit is unsustainable, so there is no room for growth in the public sector of higher education without substantial tuition hikes that will make college out of reach for even more students, or tax increases that will kill off the teetering economic recovery.

Meanwhile, the private market, if permitted to compete at least somewhat fairly, has the capital and willingness to expand capacity and allow many more persons the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education. In addition, private sector education is focused on specialized, short-term career skill enhancement, which is what our economy, businesses job seekers need to grow. Yet, the Obama Administration continues to push an agenda that will make it increasingly harder for the private sector schools to compete. I think it hopes to reduce the momentum and size of the for-profit sector and thwart potential investors, in an attempt to improve the prospects of an ill-fated public sector. This, among other seriously flawed policies of the past two years, leads me to believe that this administration thinks that its mission is to serve the interest of the public sector, as opposed to the public at large. Last week's elections suggest that the President and his friends in Congress greatly misread the will of the people.

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