Education expert questions Durbin's criticism of for-profit universities; notes vets support for private sector colleges

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)  

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has been quite vocal in his criticism of for-profit colleges and universities, but one national education expert questions the senator's criticisms.

“I don’t know what motivates Durbin, especially since community colleges have way worse graduation rates than even for-profit colleges, despite the subsidies,” Neil McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, recently told Higher Education Tribune.

McCluskey does not deny that for-profit colleges have their own challenges, but explained that these colleges do not get subsidies from the government. As such, he said they are driven more directly by competition, which for some reason makes people uncomfortable. McCluskey said there is an animosity toward profit-making, especially in education.

He noted that public colleges have their issues as well, but they are not nearly as criticized. 

“There is nothing easier or seemingly more popular in higher education than bashing openly for-profit colleges,” he said. “If you burrow into the demographic and funding weeds, however, you’ll see that proprietary schools are likely no worse, as a whole, than any other sector of uber-subsidized higher ed.” 

Regarding Durbin's criticisms that for-profit colleges "prey" upon veterans, McCluskey cites a recent Gallup poll that shows strong veteran support for private sector colleges and universities. 

“When veterans rank how well they feel their schools understood their needs, the percentage giving a 4 or 5 – the top scores – to for-profit schools beats any other sector; and at just the 5 level only, nonprofit private institutions surpass them,” McCluskey said. “Comparing for-profit and public schools, for-profits get more 4s and 5s by a 15 percentage point margin.”

McCluskey argues that for-profit colleges help veterans and other non-traditional students because they provide multiple locations and the possibility of taking classes online. They also offer more classes after work hours, for those who have to work from 9 to 5 during the week. For-profit colleges also seem to be more flexible in working with problems specific to veterans and are more flexible in helping them adjust.

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