ABC Portrays For-Profit Colleges as Schoolyard Bullies

August 20th, 2010 12:26 PM

As students prepare to head back to school, the media are offering a course in Bias 101.

On the August 19 editions of ‘World News Tonight’ and ‘Nightline,’ ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo, with the help of undercover producers, followed the Obama Administration’s lead by attacking for-profit colleges. Federal investigators probed for-profit colleges and ABC simply followed suit.

For-profit institutions offer career-centric curricula that allow students to learn a trade or specialized skills for careers in IT, medicine or business. “Proprietaries,” as they’re also called, offer night, weekend or online classes on a narrow, skill-focused range of subjects. They cater to adults looking to start, improve or change careers.

“Federal investigators went under cover and met with school recruiters who oversold the amount of money students can expect to earn,” said ‘Nightline’ anchor Cynthia McFadden. “It was certainly misleading, but was it par for the course?”

Yes, Cynthia, it was par for the course for all college recruiters, both for-profit and public universities. However, ABC focused their attack squarely on the for-profits as Cuomo barbed Harris Miller, a for-profit college industry spokesman, about recruiters making deceptive pitches.

“Because if you have to be caught every time before you do something, then you’re never going to improve as an industry,” Cuomo chided.

Additionally, McFadden stated that students at for-profit colleges default on student loans “at an alarming rate” but never mentioned the rate. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, for-profit colleges have a high percentage of defaults, but so do private and public colleges. In fact, across the board, default rates are rising for all of higher education.

Still, this didn’t stop ABC from painting debt-ridden students as victims of the for-profits.

“But for Melissa, she’s out $8,000 and is now unemployed,” Cuomo narrated.

Lindsey Burke, policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told the Business & Media Institute traditional universities, as opposed to for-profits, should receive a critical eye from the government.

“This is a sector [for-profits] that is meeting the needs of students who may be shut out of traditional public education,” said Burke. “This [government investigation] is more of an assault on the industry than anything else.”

Burke cited a report released by the Goldwater Institute, a government watchdog group, indicating American universities suffer from “administrative bloat,” meaning they’re spending more on administrative costs than research and instructional costs. According to the report, one of the main reasons for this is because increasing government subsidies insulate students from administrative costs, so the universities are free to spend more without worrying about passing the cost to students.

Yet the media is never interested in investigating public universities and instead turn their intention on for-profits and the student loan industries. Perhaps an investigation into public universities would provide the media with a better education.

Like this article? Then sign up for our newsletter, The Balance Sheet.