Thursday, October 2, 2008

Veto prolongs lack of oversight of for-profit colleges

A day after the governor's veto torpedoed three years of discussions about policing the state's 1,600 for-profit and vocational colleges, lawmakers and others were wondering how to protect hundreds of thousands of students at those schools.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday announced he would not sign SB 823, saying the bill failed to "strike a balance between protecting students, while being firm, yet fair to schools." The legislation was confusing and not easily enforceable, he wrote in his veto message.

The veto disappointed consumer advocates, who had argued the continued lack of oversight could lead fly-by-night diploma mills to relocate to California. The state has been without a watchdog since July 1, 2007, when the Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education expired.

"This is almost like after a natural disaster, when you get all kinds of predatory operators," said Betsy Imholz, an attorney with the Consumers Union and a strident supporter of a new bureau. "We need an alert system before people enter a school."

The now-defunct bureau was created to gather complaints by students who believed vocational schools had cheated them. A minority of the schools gave the industry a bad reputation by closing unexpectedly without returning tuition money.

Some schools have been criticized for giving useless degrees and few job prospects to students who paid tens of thousands of dollars.

Critics said the bill Advertisementwas too tightly controlled by its sponsor, Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland. With his term expiring this winter, new legislative leaders should focus on creating a bill that is concise and not as intent on teaching for-profit operators a lesson, said Robert Johnson, executive director of the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools.

"I think the governor and his administration have been pretty clear about what they want in a bill," Johnson said. Democrats "are demanding a bill that goes way beyond regulatory measures and punishes the sector.

"We have to have bipartisan leadership."

Neither Perata nor his replacement as Senate president pro tem, Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, responded to interview requests Wednesday.

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger asked the Department of Consumer Affairs to educate students about their rights and to investigate complaints. A department leader said Wednesday her agency has been doing both since the bureau closed.

"Basically, there haven't been any major issues," said Patty Harris, a deputy director with the Department of Consumer Affairs. "If one arises, we're committed" to dealing with it.

  • U.S. nears passing housing support bill
  • Oil prices push Husky profit
  • Veto prolongs lack of oversight of for-profit colleges
  • Veto prolongs lack of oversight of for-profit colleges
  • Assembly passes contentious for-profit college bill