GAO Investigation Exposes More Rule-Breaking at For-Profit Colleges

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The federal government’s requirement is reasonable: in order for students to qualify for financial aid, they must have earned a high school diploma or equivalent or demonstrate an ability to benefit from postsecondary education. But a new investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office shows that many for-profit college companies are failing to verify applicants’ high school credentials.

Of the 15 for-profit institutions investigated by the GAO, 12 granted admission to undercover students who deliberately submitted applications with phony high school diplomas. And of these 12, half turned a blind eye to plagiarized, late, incomplete, or substandard academic work.

Even after the adoption of the U.S. Department of Education’s decidedly milquetoast gainful employment regulations, the for-profit sector still needs intense regulatory scrutiny. The sector has grown enormously over the past decade, and one of its more recent areas of growth has been in teacher-prep programs. A recent New York Times article notes that alternative certification programs offered by for-profit companies have ballooned by 23 percent since 2003, including the online iTeach Texas program, which has expanded to two states and has plans for more growth.

Given for-profit college companies’ poor track record, it is worth paying close attention to these expanding programs and ensuring that they comply with federal laws and regulations. Like all other teacher preparation programs, for-profit programs should be held accountable for what matters most: their graduates’ effectiveness in the classroom.

— Dan Miller