WASHINGTON, D.C. | October 14, 2009 -
This hearing is about how the federal government works with all institutions of higher education to ensure that the student eligibility requirements for federal student aid outlined in the Higher Education Act are being met. I understand that there is significant history on this topic before us and I look forward to hearing more about GAO’s study and the oversight measures that are being taken to protect students and taxpayers.
The diversity that currently exists within the American higher education system is what makes ours the best in the world. For example, this past weekend I was pleased to participate in the commencement ceremony at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. Sullivan graduated over 650 students with Associates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees. The commencement ceremony reminded me what our goal here should be – ensuring that students are well equipped for the future.
Proprietary schools like Sullivan University have a history of offering quality educations to students in a variety of fields. These institutions also have a history of educating underserved populations, including those in rural and urban areas where students have very limited options for job training.
These institutions also educate a high percentage of “non-traditional” college students. In fact, according to the GAO report we are here to discuss, more than half of the students attending proprietary schools are over the age of 25. In addition, over half of the student population is from a minority background.
Finally, in many cases, these institutions are also geared toward graduating students with specific skills that will help them find jobs in a weakened economy.
The competition that exists between proprietary institutions, community colleges, and four year public and private institutions ensures that students from all types of backgrounds have plenty of options if they choose to pursue some form of postsecondary education. We must do all that we can to ensure that all institutions, for-profit or non-profit, and their institutional partners are following the rules as outlined by the Higher Education Act.
Because I know how important postsecondary education is, particularly in the current economic downturn, I was concerned by the GAO’s recent findings. I strongly believe that mismanagement in testing or abuse of federal financial aid should not be taken lightly. These cases must be addressed, and hopefully the findings of the GAO can help us determine whether there is an underlying vulnerability of the system that needs to be addressed.
One thing I hope that we will not lose sight of during this hearing is that the GAO did not find a pattern of infractions in its review. While even one incident of mismanagement or abuse is one too many, it is important to understand the scope of this issue as we work to address it.
I would also note that the GAO did not visit or review any non-profit institutions of higher education. The student eligibility rules that we are talking about here are required of both proprietary and non-profit institutions of higher education and, as such, should be enforced regardless of the profit status of the institution. In the interest of protecting all students, I hope we continue working to apply federal safeguards across all sectors of higher education.
Our country is facing a difficult economic time, and many are finding themselves unemployed or with an uncertain future. As we work to enhance oversight and root out those who have broken the law, we must be vigilant about preserving and expanding a diverse array of options for students in need of additional education.
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