Senate report finds large cost gap between for-profit, public colleges
by Erica Perez , The Bay Citizen
Among the findings of a U.S. Senate committee’s recently released investigation of the nation’s for-profit college industry is a stark assessment of the huge gap between what it costs to get a degree or certificate from a career college and the price tag of a comparable program at a public college or university in California.
The two-year investigation by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee took a sweeping look at 30 for-profit education institutions nationwide, combing through financial statements, internal company documents and other data to create a picture of a sector that it says fails to provide adequate return on investment for students and taxpayers.
Republicans on the committee criticized the report as biased, as did organizations representing the for-profit sector. Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said in a statement that the report “twists the facts to fit a narrative.”
The high price of tuition was one piece of the committee’s report. Overall, the investigation found that bachelor’s degree programs at career colleges cost 20 percent more, on average, than comparable programs at flagship public universities.
Associate degree programs at for-profits averaged four times the price tag of community college programs.
In California, a medical assistant diploma at the for-profit Heald College in Fresno costs $22,275. A comparable program at Fresno City College costs $1,650, according to the Senate report. An associate degree in paralegal studies at the for-profit Everest College in Ontario costs $41,149, compared with $2,392 for the same degree at Santa Ana College.
Both Heald and Everest are owned by Santa Ana-based Corinthian Colleges Inc.
At American Career College in Anaheim, the medical assistant program costs $17,068, more than eight times the cost at Orange Coast College, where a certificate of achievement in medical assisting would cost $2,046.
Sometimes, those costs are not fully disclosed or easily understood by students who take on loans to foot the bills, the report claimed.
For-profit colleges reaped $32 billion in federal financial aid last year. Meanwhile, more than half of students who enrolled in a for-profit college in 2008-09 left without a degree by the middle of 2010. The report claims that high-priced degrees, high withdrawal rates, poor job placement services and questionable academic rigor combine to leave students saddled with formidable debt.
Michelle Leggitt, 38, chose to go to Heald College’s Roseville campus in fall 2011 for a degree in medical office administration ‘ a two-year program that costs an estimated $30,000 in tuition alone. She opted for Heald rather than the local community college because she thought Heald offered a quicker, more efficient way to earn an associate degree.
‘I don’t have the education behind me. I have the work experience behind me,’ Leggitt said. ‘I wanted to get a degree to be able to show my kids, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still go to school.’
Leggitt ended up withdrawing from the program because of personal issues, as well as an ongoing disagreement with the college administration. She’s not sure how much she owes the school.