Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Collateral Damage

I took a call last week from a potential student searching for a medical assisting program. Of course, that isn't news - the CAAHEP office takes dozens of such calls every week. But this call was different in several respects. First of all, the young woman knew what she was looking for and was asking all the right questions. Secondly, she was asking these questions BEFORE she enrolled or took out a dollar in student loans. And perhaps most surprisingly, the program she wanted to attend was, in fact, CAAHEP-accredited.

So, what was her problem? The program is at a "technical school" and she had been hearing so many bad things about "technical schools," she just didn't trust her own judgment (or CAAHEP's) about this particular program. The institution in question is not part of a large national chain but it does have multiple campuses. We have no record of ever having received a complaint against this particular school (or any of its other campuses). But it's a "technical school" and nothing I said seemed to assuage her anxiety.

This is why I chose the title "Collateral Damage" for this blog entry. While the battle over for-profit higher education rages on Capitol Hill and in the media, there are a lot of conscientious, good-quality institutions that are suffering from the "fallout."

But, or course, this does not make the real problems any less severe. For the first time ever, as of June 2010, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt. And while credit card debt can be erased in bankruptcy, student loan debt will follow a person throught his or her life (including possible garnishment of Social Security benefits).

The for-profit higher education industry have been vehemently fighting efforts by the Department of Education to impose "gainful employment" requirements (just as some of their opponents have been working in support of the draft rules). Recent stories have reported the huge amounts spent lobbying against these efforts and the organized letter writing campaigns that resulted in more than 80,000 comments filed with the Department both for and against the proposed rule. Meantime, Senator Harkin has announced another hearing by the Senate HELP Committee to be held on September 30th. This hearing is expected to focus on student outcomes and debt. Undoubtedly there will be more bombshells -- and more collateral damage.

To watch the hearing via webcast at 10:00 am Eastern time on September 30th , you can go to:


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