Private Postsecondary Institutions Need Oversight Now

studentsAs Assembly Bill 48 moves closer to becoming law, it seems that many of its critics have forgotten the fact that today’s private post secondary students have absolutely no protections. Despite the gridlock in Sacramento over almost everything, AB 48 has amassed significant bipartisan support because both Democrats and Republicans recognize that the current system, without oversight and student protections, is unacceptable.

AB 48 seeks to establish a new State Bureau to regulate private colleges and protect the more than 400,000 students who attend these institutions. The bill was recently labeled “anti-consumer” in an opinion piece which outlined grievances and shortcomings. These critics failed, however, to offer a workable and reasonable alternative. Absent constructive and reasonable suggestions, this heels-dug-in approach to government gives the appearance that these groups would prefer the “wild west” environment currently in place to the structure provided by AB 48.

Let’s be clear, what we have today is NO regulation. There are NO protections for students and there are NO state guidelines for private colleges. This is because in 2007, following a 20-year history of fundamental problems with the former Bureau’s operations, the law governing private colleges was allowed to expire. Since 2007, there have been numerous attempts to establish a new law. The most recent, were SB 823 (Perata) and AB 2746 (Niello). Consumer groups supported the former and opposed the later and both bills ultimately failed to become law. With the Legislature and the Governor unable to find compromise, it is the very students these consumer groups claim to defend that have suffered the most.

In March of this year, we learned that promises to students were not being fulfilled by the Wounded Marine Careers Foundation, a Southern California film program charging up to $88,000 per student. In July, a student’s pending lawsuit against DeVry University was not considered because the law on which the case was based was repealed. Earlier this month the Montecito Fine Arts College of Design abruptly shut its doors, leaving nearly 1,200 students without a degree, without their tuition and without recourse.

Another year without legislative action will cause more problems for countless students. It is clear that the status quo is unacceptable. AB 48 may not be perfect, but it responds to the major problems with the former law and to the causes of failure in previous legislative attempts. Rather than focus on what is not in the bill, consumer groups should be rallying behind the protections included in AB 48. The legislation requires all unaccredited colleges in California to be approved by the new Bureau, and all nationally accredited colleges to comply with numerous student protections; establishes prohibitions on false advertising and inappropriate recruiting; requires disclosure of critical information to students such as program outlines, graduation and job placement rates, and license examination information, while ensuring that colleges justify those figures; guarantees students can complete their educational objectives if their institution closes its doors; and, most importantly, gives the Bureau an array of enforcement tools to ensure that colleges comply with the law.

portantino

AB 48 provides a solid foundation for a new oversight structure. It represents our only chance at achieving resolution on the issue this year and, for this reason, has received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature. Consumer groups appear to want their version of “perfect” legislation, which has already been vetoed by the Governor. Their “perfect” solution is not a reality at this time. The critical nature of this issue calls for legislators to lead and not to allow the “perfect” to get in the way of the “good”.

Anthony Portantino
Assemblyman. Assembly District 44

Published by the LA Progressive on August 18, 2009
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