What private colleges and for-profits told the House higher-ed committee

With the biggest players out of the way – the U and MnSCU – it was time today for reps from both the nonprofit private colleges (Minnesota Private College Council) and for-profit schools (Minnesota Career College Association) to do their spiel today for the state House committee on higher education.

Looked like the private colleges were gunning for more government support for the Minnesota State Grant, the program that gives state money to lower- and moderate-income students for undergraduate education – either at public or private schools.

The for-profit college reps seemed keen to dismiss “myths” that they’ve labored under – such as faulty job-placement claims or high default rates: “The career college program in Minnesota is stronger than it is nationally.”

A few highlights:

• Private Council reps pushed the diversity of the colleges, saying their economic background of their students was much the same as those at public institutions.

• Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona) took a jab at the public Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, by saying the privates seem to do very well without a second layer of administration. But another representative said that’s not a fair comparison. (I’m thinking he meant the differing size and focus of the two systems.)

• Committee members pressed private colleges on remediation rates

(the proportion of students taking remedial or developmental courses), but were told the rates vary “dramatically” among the colleges.

• One House representative cautioned against comparing the performance and stats of private colleges with those of public institutions too closely, because the educational background of private-college students tends to be higher: “Higher input equals higher output.”

• In response to a college official’s chart showing no case of a low-education state with high income, a committee member cautioned that it’s not always clear what the relationship is. High-income states, he said, naturally have more money to spend on education.

• A for-profit-college official touted the for-profit default rates as compared to other schools in Minnesota. The latest data (2008) shows the national default rate for all colleges in Minnesota at 3.7 percent, whereas for-profits have a default rate of 3.9 percent, he said. Rep. Joe Atkins, however, said the data doesn’t go back far enough and account for things such as continued forbearances or defaults that occur after a few years. “Does anyone have (the data) out 5 years, 10 years? That’s where the action is.” He was told the government doesn’t keep that kind of data, but that Atkins had a fair point.