Postsecondary Education

On behalf of vulnerable adult student populations such as military veterans and former foster youth, CAI and its sister organization, the Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL), are advocating to improve the oversight and regulation of of private, for-profit postsecondary schools. Too often, these for-profit schools charge high tuition, spend public funds and generate high debt for their students — with dubious results. Many of these schools engage in highly visible and potentially misleading marketing campaigns aimed solely at increasing their profits, and they are not committed to providing students with a quality education. Due in part to the lack of appropriate student support services provided by these schools, many students drop out prior to graduating, and those who do graduate rarely find the lucrative careers commonly touted in the schools' ubiquitous advertising. Either way, they are saddled with debt that many are unable to climb out from under.

As way of background, a July 2012 report by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee revealed that although federal taxpayers are investing billions of dollars a year in for-profit colleges, “more than half of the students who enrolled in in those colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma within a median of four months.” Consider some of the other findings from this report:
  • For-profit colleges are owned and operated by businesses. Like any business, they are ultimately accountable by law for the returns they produce for shareholders. While small independent for-profit colleges have a long history, by 2009, at least 76% of students attending for-profit colleges were enrolled in a college owned by either a company traded on a major stock exchange or a college owned by a private equity firm. The financial performance of these companies is closely tracked by analysts and by investors.
  • Congress has failed to counterbalance investor demands for increased financial returns with requirements that hold companies accountable to taxpayers and students for providing quality education, support, and outcomes. Federal law and regulations currently do not align the incentives of for-profit colleges so that the colleges succeed financially when students succeed.
  • Many for-profit colleges fail to make the necessary investments in student support services that have been shown to help students succeed in school and afterwards, a deficiency that undoubtedly contributes to high withdrawal rates.
  • More than half a million students who enrolled in 2008-09 left without a degree or certificate by mid-2010.
  • Among two-year Associate degree-seekers, 63% of students departed without a degree.
  • The vast majority of the students left with student loan debt that may follow them throughout their lives, and can create a financial burden that is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to escape.
  • In the absence of significant reforms that align the incentives of for-profit colleges to ensure colleges succeed financially only when students also succeed, and ensure that taxpayer dollars are used to further the educational mission of the colleges, the sector will continue to turn out hundreds of thousands of students with debt but no degree, and taxpayers will see little return on their investment.


CAI's work in this area includes the following: