Monitoring for-profit colleges draws attentionAs for-profit colleges come under scrutiny nationally for some questionable practices, a discussion is brewing in North Dakota to provide more consumer protection for students.
By: By Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
As for-profit colleges come under scrutiny nationally for some questionable practices, a discussion is brewing in North Dakota to provide more consumer protection for students.
A recent undercover government probe found deception in for-profit colleges’ recruiting practices and, in some cases, outright fraud.
None of the campuses identified in the report have locations in North Dakota, but they could be offering online classes to students in the state.
Officials in the North Dakota University System and the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education want state legislators to discuss in the session beginning in January how those for-profit colleges are monitored.
“In general, North Dakota protections are considered to be very weak in regards to out-of-state providers,” said Michel Hillman, the university system’s vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.
In Minnesota, out-of-state colleges — both for-profit and nonprofit — are required to register with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
The state office offers consumer protection for students, including investigating student complaints.
In North Dakota, only colleges with a “physical presence” in the state need to apply for permission to operate, said Debra Huber, administrator with the Department of Career and Technical Education.
A physical presence includes colleges that don’t have buildings in the state but require students to do an internship or clinical practicum in the state, Huber said.
A physical presence does not include colleges that offer online classes to North Dakota residents or that advertise in the state.
“There could be legitimately all kinds of institutions that are offering services here in North Dakota,” Huber said. “And we would not even know about them.”
For-profit schools that do have a physical presence in North Dakota have to go through a thorough application process and annual review.
That includes documentation of accreditation, financial information and a statement of compliance with a tuition refund policy. Registered colleges also need a surety bond of at least $10,000 for the protection of students.
Huber’s office could intervene if the colleges it regulates engage in deceptive practices, such as the ones found nationally.
But her office would have no recourse if the school isn’t registered in the state.
“We have no authority to take any action against a school that isn’t authorized to operate here,” Huber said.
Minnesota’s policies aren’t perfect, either, when it comes to online schools from out of state.
If a student is completing 51 percent of a degree in Minnesota, that school should be registered with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said George Roedler, licensure manager.
But his office has no way of knowing if a college is breaking that rule unless there’s a complaint.
Officials with the North Dakota University System and Career and Technical Education are talking about reorganizing how out-of-state institutions are approved.
Vice chancellor Hillman said that could include having more staff involved with oversight of these schools.
Huber is the only person responsible for reviewing the private postsecondary schools, and it’s only a portion of her job.
North Dakota also could increase the licensing fees, providing additional resources for more thorough monitoring, Hillman said.
The university system’s interest in better oversight for out-of-state colleges is not to keep out the competition but to help students, Hillman said.
“There is a real issue with protecting students as consumers and their investment in higher education, that, frankly, can be very high,” Hillman said.
Amy Dalrymple is a reporter at The Forum which is owned by Forum Communications Co.