The effort to bring accountability to the anything-goes landscape of for-profit higher education has landed hard - but justly - on Globe University and the Minnesota School of Business.
The U.S. Department of Education found that both schools committed fraud involving federal student aid funds, with deceptive practices that cost both students and taxpayers. This week the department imposed one of its strongest penalties - removal of the schools from the federal student aid program.
The schools, which were found guilty in district court of fraud in September, are also under a revocation order from the state Office of Higher Education and have been prohibited from enrolling new students since then. Both schools are examples of an overly loose regulatory framework that has allowed some for-profit schools to act with impunity, taking advantage of unsuspecting students and abusing too-scarce taxpayer funds needed to educate those who seek better career opportunities.
There is a role for private, for-profit institutions in higher education. Some appear to have provided value to students looking for more flexibility than some more traditional school settings may offer.
But Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who initiated legal proceedings against the two schools for deception in their criminal justice programs in 2014, said that while Globe and MSB are the first in the country found guilty of fraud, they may not be the only ones. She said her office has other investigations of for-profit colleges pending. "This is not the end of it," she said.
Nor should it be. That kind of determination to hold such institutions accountable is needed and should continue at both the state and federal levels. The incoming Trump administration would do well to be just as vigilant as its predecessors. The effort to root out fraud, deceptive practices and abuse of taxpayer funds transcends political ideologies and ultimately will strengthen the position of those for-profit institutions that are trying to do things the right way.
Neither Globe nor MSB had regional accreditation for their criminal justice programs. They weren't recognized by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Board - a requisite, Swanson said, for those seeking licensed jobs in law enforcement. "You simply could not get a job in law enforcement based on a Globe education," she said. "It was brazen deception." In some instances, she said, students were told they could become probation officers through a two-year program, even though Minnesota requires probation officers to have a four-year degree.
Minnesota has invested heavily in higher education - particularly in criminal justice programs, which are available at public colleges and universities from Moorhead to Mankato, Thief River Falls to Winona and points in-between, along with private nonprofits like St. Thomas, Hamline and Concordia universities. It is these institutions, dedicated to their students and their professions - with established academic reputations and some at rates far lower than for-profits - that deserve the aid programs that will open doors to those who want to reach higher.
Neither Globe nor MSB was a tuition bargain, often charging two or three times the cost of some public institutions. But public colleges and universities don't have endless marketing budgets that allow for the constant drumbeat of TV, radio and online ads. Prospective students attempting to cut through the hype can start by looking for schools with regional accreditation, which is harder to get than national accreditation, as counterintuitive as that may seem.
Minnesota Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller said both schools are appealing the revocation order and the federal decision on student aid, arguing that fraud was not found in other programs the schools offer. That is not nearly a high enough bar for schools entrusted with educating students. For-profit schools must hold themselves to standards every bit as high as their public and nonprofit counterparts if they hope to provide value in the marketplace of education.