The DoE’s Regulatory Double Standard: Who’s Next?

This Week @Inside Higher Ed is a superb new weekly radio show hosted by Inside Higher Education with IHE founder Doug Lederman and moderator Casey Green as regular participants. On Friday, June 27th, invited guests William Durdan and Ann Kirschner contributed to a very thoughtful discussion about the Corinthian closure.

Two new and extremely important implications of the closure came through to me as I listened to the conversation (linked here for your convenience). The first was the issue of a demonstrable double standard being exercised by the Department of Education (DoE) which has singled out, almost entirely, the for-profit sector for separate and unequal regulatory treatment. You see it with Gainful employment and 90:10 rules and it is proposed once again in the treatment of VA benefits as non-government money — Never mind that a benefit is earned and ought to be used at the discretion of its owner.

But the act of closing one institution poses another question: Are there other institutions with similarly dire problems that should be closed? The discussants raised the current example of City College of San Francisco, the bankrupt and perennially unstable community college in San Francisco that is on governance, financial, and regulatory life-support.  Yet after years of public discussion and failed rescue attempts, the DoE has not suggested that the college should be closed. Would they dare use the argument that there wouldn’t be anywhere else for those students to go? If they did, that would be further evidence of a double standard. There are many private institutions that would be ready to step in.

The second implication is more of a political and contextual observation. There was, as I heard it, a general consensus that the DoE was not going to stop this wrong-headed approach of trying to regulate its way to quality (see my earlier post “You Can’t Regulate Your Way to Excellence”). Indeed, the consensus on This Weekseemed to indicate that, increasingly, non-profit institutions ranging from community colleges to private colleges are worried that the department’s overreach with institutions that are part of the Association of Private Schools, Colleges, and Universities (APSCU) will now be extended to them, beginning with rankings, extending to new state regulatory mandates, and finally including the regulatory regimes listed above. I have heard this concern at meetings, in hushed whispers or over a drink after the meeting was adjourned. But as with the issue of an operating double standard discussed above, I have never heard it discussed in a public forum as accepted truth by mainstream leaders in higher education. Now, beginning with this broadcast, the issue is in the mainstream. As the double standard is extended to include more types of institutions, who will be next?

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