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Originally published Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Looking out for college students

New federal rules strengthen student-aid programs and protect students from schools that engage in aggressive or misleading recruiting practices.

Information

The full report by the Education Trust can be found at:

http://www.edtrust.org/dc/press-room/news/broken-promises-for-profit-colleges-fail-our-students

The GAO report can be found at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-948T

OBAMA administration rules promise to strengthen federal student-aid programs as well as protect students from the aggressive and deceptive recruiting practices that are the norm at many career colleges.

A version of the truth in advertising ethos will require schools to disclose the effectiveness of their career college and training programs and their graduation and job-placement rates.

For-profit education institutions have been loath to put out that kind of information.

Here's why. For an education sector that has grown tenfold in the last decade, lax oversight has fostered a system of high tuition costs and low graduation rates.

A scathing report by the influential think tank, Education Trust, offers a damning list of examples. Only 22 percent of students in for-profit colleges' four-year programs earn degrees within six years. Contrast that with a 55 percent six-year graduation rate at public colleges and a 65 percent rate at private nonprofit schools.

The most egregious example is a 9 percent graduation rate at the University of Phoenix — the nation's largest for-profit postsecondary education provider as well as the recipient of more than $1 billion in federal Pell Grant aid last year.

While some career colleges have achieved a level of credibility, the business model at far too many appears to be one based on student failure, not success.

Schools must also do a better job ensuring that only students that qualify receive financial aid. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, ordered by Congress to conduct a sting, found students at for-profit colleges being encouraged to falsify their financial aid forms.

The Ed Trust report found that many students maxed out on their federal aid and were steered to private loans, which they later defaulted on.

Regulations will address some of the abuses but federal scrutiny should continue. As more students pursue postsecondary education, a strong and fair educational structure is critical.

Career colleges play an important role as nimble providers of professional and career training. They help broaden educational access to underserved communities.

But if they're going to be in the business of education, they must do it well. Regulatory scrutiny applies the pressure.

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