As state university students move into dorms throughout Wisconsin and technical college students register for classes in between their work schedules, a competing reality is also taking place.
Late night TV ads proliferate, offering the moon to poor single mothers, veterans and people of color from various “colleges” and “institutes.”
This same scenario plays out every fall, but this year is a bit different: Gov. Tony Evers is rebuilding the state agency responsible for regulating the predatory for-profit industry and protecting students targeted for exploitation.
As former Gov. Scott Walker slashed Wisconsin university and tech college budgets, he was a tireless champion of the for-profit sector and ripped away protections from students targeted by this predatory industry.
Walker eliminated the Educational Approval Board, the state agency responsible for policing the tactics employed by the for-profit industry. He did this despite the fact that Everest College, Sanford Brown and ITT Tech, among others, had well-documented records of fraudulent behavior. ITT Tech and Everest College collapsed in 2013, abandoning well over 1,000 students in Milwaukee alone.
Attorneys general from multiple states including Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota sued these hucksters for defrauding students, while Walker and Republican legislative leaders protected them.
Students like Milwaukee's Mai McCarthy, the first in her family to attend college, were convinced to take out huge loans to enroll in these institutions.
“The education was worthless,” McCarthy reported of her experience at ITT. “We weren’t taught anything. The credits didn’t transfer. I ended up with nothing but a debt of $15,000.”
She later graduated with honors from both Milwaukee Area Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
McCarthy’s experience was not unique. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, in a study of for-profit colleges for the U.S. Senate Education Committee, found for-profits routinely encouraged fraudulent recruiting and enrollment practices. A more recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “for-profit enrollment leads to more loans, higher loan amounts, an increased likelihood of borrowing, an increased risk of default and worse labor market outcomes.”
Gov. Evers has done an about-face by reestablishing the Educational Approval Board. Prior to Walker’s administration, Wisconsin had been a national model for regulating predator colleges.
In order to fully protect students, the Evers administration should take an additional step: put together a committee of higher education experts —including former students at for-profit colleges — to advise the EAB about additional steps Wisconsin could take to protect our students from fraud and to set standards for the for-profit industry.
Then Wisconsin students getting ready for a new college semester will know that their state government once again has their backs.
Michael Rosen and Charlie Dee are retired professors from Milwaukee Area Technical College, as well as retired leaders of American Federation of Teachers Local 212.
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