Commercial Colleges Broke Rules in U.S. Inquiry
Commercial Colleges Broke Rules in U.S. InquiryBy TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times, 11/22/2011, originalMost of the commercial colleges tested by undercover investigators posing as students allowed them to enroll with fake high school graduation credentials, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, an auditing arm of Congress.
And most of the colleges that enrolled investigators violated academic policies on cheating or grading, or the federal regulations requiring exit counseling for those with student loans, the report said.
Between October 2010 and last month, the investigators posed as students and tried to enroll in introductory online courses at 15 commercial colleges, 12 of which allowed them to use a fictitious home-school diploma or a diploma from a high school that had closed.
The students then tested the colleges’ academic practices by ignoring assignments; turning in incorrect, unresponsive or plagiarized homework; or failing to log in to class.
Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, requested the undercover report as part of his continuing investigation into the practices of the rapidly expanding commercial sector.
“The fact that many of the schools accepted incomplete and plagiarized work — sometimes for full credit — leads me to question whether for-profit college students are truly receiving the quality education they are promised to prepare them for a good job,” Mr. Harkin said in a statement.
“Coupled with sky-high tuition costs, alarming dropout rates, poor job placement services and the many other troubling practices that we’ve uncovered in the HELP Committee’s investigation,” he said, “it is obvious that Congress must step in to hold this heavily federally subsidized industry more accountable.”
Brian Moran, interim president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said the report should not be seen as an indictment of all career colleges.
“The G.A.O.’s report reflects only a tiny fraction of private sector schools,” Mr. Moran said in a statement. “The reality is that the overwhelming majority of schools in the private sector have proven invaluable in preparing nontraditional students facing unique challenges so they can compete for jobs in a challenging economy.”
He also questioned the report, “given the one-sided nature of Senator Harkin’s inquiry into the proprietary sector of higher education and serious flaws in the previous G.A.O. report regarding this sector.”
The report did not identify the colleges but said they included the five largest commercial colleges, and the one about which the Government Accountability Office had received the most unsolicited complaints.
At one college, a student enrolled in a “Learning Strategies and Techniques” course that was required as part of a two-year associate degree business program. The student submitted photos of political figures and celebrities in answers to essay questions and failed to participate in required real-time chat sessions, but passed the course anyway, the report found.
In the same course at another college, after a student failed two multiple-choice quizzes, the instructor reminded the student that quizzes could be retaken. Since the correct answers were displayed upon completion, the instructor added, “it’s not hard to get a 100 percent on the second try; just jot down the correct answers and take the quiz again.”
At another college, an instructor gave a student an A on an assignment the student had never submitted.
And at a third, a student consistently submitted material that was clearly plagiarized from online sources or the class textbook and received credit for the assignments, although the instructor noted the plagiarism and told the student to paraphrase.
Three of the colleges did not provide the required counseling on loan repayment and the consequences of default when students withdrew.
The report did find some instances of good practice, though. At one college, when the undercover student logged in but did not submit any assignments or participate in discussions, the instructor repeatedly tried to contact her to offer help. At another, a student who failed to maintain the required 65 percent average for the first five weeks was expelled, with no financial obligation, as college policy required.