Linda Chavez

Remember the Obama administration's promise to make higher education more accessible by expanding Pell grants and student loans to more students through the $787 billion stimulus? Apparently, the administration is having second thoughts -- at least when it comes to allowing students to pick their own schools.

New regulations being contemplated by the Education Department would place new restrictions on loans going to students who want to use them at for-profit schools. The administration's claim is that for-profit schools exploit low-income -- often minority -- students by promising them high-paying careers, on which they can't deliver, and saddling them with debt. But is that really the issue?

For-profit schools occupy an important niche in our higher-education system. They provide training in everything from traditional academic fields to information technology, health care, criminal justice, and automotive repair. According to recent estimates, enrollment at for-profit career schools has increased 20 percent during the recession, as many workers, young and older, realize that they don't have the skills to compete in an increasingly technical and demanding labor force. And with many states cutting back on community college budgets, for-profit schools are sometimes the only alternative to get the training students want and need.

Tuition at for-profit schools averages about $14,000 a year, according to the College Board -- not cheap, but midway between the range in average college tuition between private colleges ($26,273) and public ($7,020). But the difference is that many for-profit career colleges require only a one- or two-year commitment to provide practical job skills, not four. But like all educational institutions, for-profit schools can't guarantee success. It's up to the students to stick with the program, learn the skills, and be diligent in pursuing jobs after they've earned their degrees.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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