Is for-profit education deceitful? Have we no standards?

Students at Westwood College in the United States have just filed a law suit against the for-profit college in both Colorado and California, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Both Westwood College, which has 17 campuses, and its affiliate, Redstone College are accused of deceiving and lying to students. The Chronicle reports that the claim against the institutions is that the college follows this formula, “Recruit those with the greatest financial need and enroll them in high-cost institutions to maximize the amount of federal funding.” The college is denying the allegations.

There is a raging debate going on about for-profit versus non-profit education. Which is better? Which is more scrupulous? Which is more trustworthy?

These are tough questions.

In Canada, an interesting and very cool thing happened a few years ago. In the languages field, we have had standards organizations for decades. For most of that time, public institutions had one organization (CLC) and private language schools had another (CAPLS). Over the years, individuals from both of these organizations began attending the same trade fairs, the same agent workshops and the same conferences. Friendships were forged. Conversations began. And understanding grew on both sides about the purpose, ethics and motivations of those who worked in the “other” sector. In 2008, representatives from both organizations came together to form Languages Canada and a new professional organization for language learning in Canada was born. This new organization represents schools teaching both official languages, English and French, and includes member institutions from both the public and for-profit sectors.

This new organization quickly became “the” professional language organization in Canada. Why?

One word: Standards.

Prospective members must not only apply, they must undergo a rigorous application process that includes an in-depth school inspection and evaluation. Only schools deemed to meet the relentless standards of the organization are accepted as members. Members are monitored to ensure that they continue to meet the standards established by the organization.

I don’t know what will happen with the case of Westwood and Redstone Colleges. I do know that students need to be kept at the heart of our work, while professional standards guide us along that path.

Students don’t feed the bottom line. They are the bottom line. Students’ potential, capacity to grow, learn, get jobs that allow them to support themselves and live meaningful lives, and in turn, pass their knowledge and wisdom on to the generations to know, is the reason education exists at all.

As educators and administrators, we are obliged to keep the standards for our profession high and demand excellence not only of our students but of our selves and our institutions.

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