Gov. Scott Walker is once again moving to eliminate the board that oversees Wisconsin’s for-profit colleges and transfer its duties to another state agency, echoing a similar plan lawmakers rejected when he proposed it two years ago.
The shake-up, included in Walker’s executive budget, could reduce state oversight of for-profit schools, which have weathered criticism for questionable marketing practices and degree programs. The proposal comes as experts also expect federal regulators to take a more hands-off approach to the industry.
The governor’s 2017-19 budget proposal indicates he would move staff positions from the Educational Approval Board, a small agency that licenses and regulates for-profit schools, to the Department of Safety and Professional Standards.
Retaining those jobs would make the plan different from the one Walker proposed in the 2015-17 state budget. That provision would have transferred the agency’s equivalent of 6.5 full-time employees’ work to one part-time staffer. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee later removed it from the budget.
But EAB director David Dies said Walker’s current plan appears to get rid of the agency’s board, which sets policy and responds to student complaints, with officials at DSPS replacing that role.
Doing so would mean losing members’ expertise in the field, Dies said.
“I have not run a school, but I have board members who have, and that certainly adds value to the process,” he said.
Walker’s office described the move as a way to consolidate regulation of for-profit colleges under one agency.
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“DSPS already has oversight on some schools regulated by the EAB, and we expect to find efficiencies without compromising regulatory oversight,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said.
Supporters of the EAB note the agency receives no public funding, and instead contributes 10 percent of the money it collects in fees from colleges back to the state’s general fund.
After the Obama administration toughened oversight of for-profit colleges, the Department of Education under President Donald Trump is expected to ease that pressure, which could shift much of the industry’s regulation to the state level.
“While other states are stepping up to protect students, Walker has a different idea,” said Analiese Eicher, program director for the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. “More, not less, scrutiny of for-profit colleges is needed to protect Wisconsin consumers and make sure they get the best education or job training for their hard-earned dollars.”
Although the governor’s budget calls for adding 6.5 positions at DSPS, Dies said it’s unclear whether current EAB staffers would be transferred to the department, or if new employees would be hired.
Both co-chairpersons of the Joint Finance Commitee, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said they needed to examine Walker’s proposal in more detail. But Nygren said he could support the plan, so long as it retains the EAB’s function.
“I don’t see a big concern because we’re not eliminating the duties, it’s just moving the responsibilities,” Nygren said.