Editorial: Again, for-profit colleges flex their muscles

by Editorial, Sacramento Bee

To understand what’s wrong with the for-profit college industry, consider its stand on legislation carried by Sen. Rod Wright.

Wright, an Inglewood Democrat, pushed Senate Bill 675, a measure to require that for-profit schools administer basic English proficiency tests before admitting students.

The reason for the bill was simple: to prevent profit-making schools from admitting students who are deficient in English. Given that classes are taught in English, these students would be doomed to fail from the moment they step into the classroom door.

These students will take out thousands of dollars in federally guaranteed loans to pay for tuition. Once they fail, as many do, they will default on the loans, to the ultimate detriment of taxpayers.

Wright’s legislation received backing from Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of California, and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, organizations that long have criticized the industry, justifiably so.

The industry mounted a lobby effort to kill the bill, successfully for now. Industry lobbyists maintain there is no problem, that schools never would admit people who can’t speak English, that the measure would jack up costs, create burdensome regulation, and require "profiling" of prospective students who have accents.

Finally, they noted that the bill would create a new cause of action subjecting for-profit career colleges to more litigation. Of course, if admission of non-English speakers is not a problem, as the industry contends, for-profit schools would have little to fear from lawsuits.

Setting aside that inconsistency, Wright stripped out the provision that would open the way for litigation after the bill stalled two weeks ago.

Even with that language deleted, the bill failed in a Senate committee earlier this week. Three Republicans voted against the bill in the Business and Professions Committee, and three Southern California Democrats ‘ Juan Vargas, Gloria Negrete McLeod and Ed Hernandez ‘ failed to cast votes, the oh-so-brave equivalent of voting no.

Earlier this year, California lawmakers took a step toward reducing the cost to taxpayers of these colleges by limiting ‘ though, unfortunately, not prohibiting ‘ the use of taxpayer-subsidized grants for students attending profit-making schools.

Legislators ought to go further by taking a page from the state of Maryland, where the Legislature has approved legislation to phase out all state aid to the for-profit schools and increase regulation.

At a minimum, these businesses should not be permitted to profit at the expense of people with limited English skills who have little or no chance of success.