Editorial: Legitimate for-profit colleges should welcome legislation to clean up their industry

Once again, some California legislators are trying to impose more regulation on for-profit colleges. Once again, for-profit colleges are fighting the effort.

Bills by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, a Solano County Democrat, would extend and expand upon a law passed in 2009 that attempted to provide some state oversight of for-profit colleges.

For-profit colleges, the target of repeated litigation and calls for reform, ought to support regulation. But they don’t. By opposing oversight, they are being short-sighted and allow themselves to be tarred by the worst actors in the troubled for-profit education industry.

Frazier’s Assembly Bill 2099 would establish minimum student outcome requirements for for-profit schools whose students receive GI Bill benefits to help pay for their education.

Lieu’s Senate Bill 1247 seeks to increase funding and staffing for the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education and grant it authority over for-profit schools whose students receive GI Bill student aid. The bill also would require that they disclose their graduation rates and provide a complaint process.

In a letter to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Robert F. Muth of the University of San Diego veterans law clinic noted that most for-profit schools already fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education.

He called the legislation modest, arguing that colleges that enroll veterans who receive taxpayer-funded benefits should be subject to some kind of screening for quality, provide school performance information and offer a way to file a complaint.

Although they are for-profit businesses, the schools depend on taxpayer subsidies in the form of student aid. Veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq use their GI Bill benefits to enroll in the schools and fall victim to them.

Apollo Group, the publicly traded parent company of University of Phoenix, is among the opponents of the Sacramento legislation. Lieu explained the opposition by saying Apollo wants to “maintain the status quo.”

Apollo’s revenue and enrollment have fallen in recent years as the Obama administration and states including California have tried to crack down on for-profit colleges.

Apollo does, however, remain a significant campaign donor, giving $85,000 to California politicians and parties this year, and $563,000 since 2010, California secretary of state records show. Apollo also is a force in Washington, D.C., where it has spent more than $1.7 million on lobbying since 2013, and $184,000 on congressional campaigns.

No doubt, some private for-profit colleges do well by their students. Certainly, some University of Phoenix students have done well in careers. For-profit colleges that strive for legitimacy should want to clean up their industry. One way to do that is by welcoming reasonable oversight.