It is disheartening to hear recent questions from the education establishment elite about whether federal student aid is ending up in the coffers of the “right” schools. To question where Pell Grant and Stafford Loan recipients choose to go to school is to question those students themselves. We all must ask ourselves, first, is it fair to question the choices of these low-income students? Second, are concerns and complaints legitimate or are they actually grounded in old-fashioned ideas about what a college or university should look like?
Bluntly, there is a clear bias in current policy debates against proprietary schools. Many in the higher education community complain that for-profit schools receive too much Pell Grant money, and that graduates of these schools aren’t paying back their Stafford Loans (and therefore shouldn’t receive them).
These are serious issues. Truly, they are accusations. Are they deserved?
A recent analysis of Pell Grant data by the New America Foundation indicates they are not. New America Foundation Policy Analyst Jennifer Cohen wrote: “Some stakeholders are concerned proprietary schools have been aggressively marketing their services to low-income students, earning a disproportionate share of the new Pell Grant funds. According to our analysis, the story is somewhat different – while proprietary schools did receive a big jump in Pell Grants in the first half of the current school year, so did public and private schools, resulting in a nearly identical distribution of funds as before ARRA [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act].”
In light of these facts, it seems to me that the cry of “unfair” ought to be against those who perpetuate myths and launch unfounded attacks against private-sector schools. At a time when President Obama’s Education Department is facing some critical choices regarding federal student loan programs, these tactics are especially unfair.
I understand that an education provided by an institution that advertises on radio and television and caters to working-class adults can be anathema to the education community’s elite. After all, they didn’t attend schools like that, and neither did their friends or family. Lack of familiarity, however, is no excuse for this kind of bias. Critics should be reminded that proprietary schools are filling a critical gap in the educational opportunities offered by public and nonprofit schools. Community colleges rose to fill a gap once, and they, too, were held in low regard. Thank goodness that attitude has matured, but why must education elites choose a new victim?
I’d like to stand up for the largely blue-collar students at private-sector schools by debunking some of the arguments against them.