Sound bill on for-profit schools

For-profit schools that provide good value to their students have nothing to fear from additional accountability and transparency.

In fact, they should welcome it as a way to distinguish themselves from their less scrupulous counterparts.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Reginald Meeks of Louisville would strengthen oversight of more than 100 post-secondary proprietary schools while providing students with additional protections and data to make better-informed decisions.

For-profit education has mushroomed in the last decade. Sadly, some of the schools regard their students as little more than vehicles for dipping into the federal treasury. For-profit colleges' take of federal financial aid increased from $4.6 billion in 2000 to $26.5 billion last year.

Lawmakers have heard rising complaints from students of for-profit schools who were left with no job prospects or transferable credits and a huge debt that taxpayers end up eating. For-profit schools accounted for 26 percent of borrowers in 2008-09 and 43 percent of all defaulters.

In Kentucky, 70 former students who were left holding the bag when the for-profit Decker College folded in 2005 are still trying to get financial relief from a $500,000 fund that was created for that purpose.

But the state Board for Proprietary Education, which is controlled by the institutions it's supposed to regulate, has yet to act on the former students' requests, reports Nancy C. Rodriguez in The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

The proposed changes in state law would lessen the conflicts-of-interest on the 11-member Board for Proprietary Education by adding more independent members, including a graduate of a proprietary school, and reducing the number of board members who come directly from proprietary school payrolls.

The bill also would sharpen the board's operations and accountability procedures and require the schools to publish an array of data, including their students' default rates.

The bill transfers oversight of seven for-profit colleges offering two-year associate degrees to the Council on Postsecondary Education. The CPE already licenses the state's private non-profit colleges and universities and the two-year community and technical colleges.

The CPE has a licensing fee structure in place so the transfer of responsibility and need for additional staff could be accommodated without going to taxpayers.

Lawmakers should make it clear that the seven for-profit institutions would be treated by CPE as first-time applicants and not receive "grandfathered" status.

Enacting HB 125 would be a step in the right direction for a state that can't afford to waste any of its human capital or financial aid dollars.