Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Idaho: The Unregulated State

Idaho: The Unregulated State

Or at least, that's how Idaho liberals like to characterize it. (Except, of course, when it involves sex and alcohol, at which point, suddenly, it is none of the government's business what consenting adults do in private.) So imagine my surprise at seeing this article from the August 19, 2008 Inside Higher Education:
On July 1, in Idaho, Harv Lyter stepped in as proprietary schools coordinator, filling for the first time a new state position dedicated to overseeing the for-profit college sector. The next day — having prepared for the job for several months — he sent letters to Breyer State University and Canyon College, indicating that they were not registered in accordance with Idaho law.

“The bottom line is they know if they went through the registration process, they would be turned down,” Lyter said. “Neither of those schools is properly accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the State Board of Education in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, in California, July 1 marked one year since the bureau charged with regulating proprietary colleges was shuttered, since the law regulating that 400,000-student sector had expired. Since then in Sacramento, debate on a permanent fix has deadlocked. Even a temporary bill allowing colleges to enter into voluntary agreements to comply with lapsed regulations expired, on July 1 of this year.

While Idaho was cracking down, California’s system had cracked.

Since July 18, Breyer State University has been incorporated in California, with a Los Angeles address. Canyon College of Idaho filed as a California corporation August 5; its new address is 4017 Garfield Ave, Carmichael, Calif. Both institutions had told Lyter that they’d be opening up shop in California, he said — although his primary concern is ensuring they don’t continue to operate without state approval in Idaho, too.

The colleges, he said, are “looking for more fertile ground.” (Breyer State, which has a history in Idaho, seems to have established itself in its third state this year. Alabama officials declined to renew its license this spring; its latest corporation filing in Idaho is dated June 26.)

The gap in regulation in California “gives these guys a window of opportunity,” Lyter said. “And the unfortunate part is that it will probably be more difficult to get them out once they’re in than it would have been to have kept them out in the first place.”

Phil Braun, director of administrative services at Canyon, said the college’s lawyer would have to speak on the issue of its relocation (when pressed about whether they’re located in California, however — the college’s own Web site has a California address — Braun said, “that is our mainstay, yes").

1. Not only did Idaho crack down--but these operations ran off to California--which, in spite of being liberal heaven, is apparently taking no steps at all to regulate for-profit colleges. While theoretically, there's no reason for a for-profit college to be inferior to a non-profit (private or governmental), what I have seen suggests that profit sometimes takes precedence over education. (Unlike non-profits, where ego or leftist politics sometimes takes precedence over education.) I confess that I am a lot more skeptical of for-profit colleges than I used to be.

I am not skeptical enough to propose regulation. If someone wants to call their diploma mill, "The Intergalactic Institute of Advanced Consciousness," and there are people foolish enough to give them money, the phrase, "A fool and his money are soon parted" comes to mind. If a private school claims to be accredited by some established organization, and they are not, that's fraud, and properly deserves punishment.

In some cases, of course, diploma mills exist to serve a governmental purpose. Many years ago, I worked as an employment agent. A black guy came to us looking for a better job. He had an unusual job history, for an engineer. He had worked from 1960 to 1973 for a particular denomination's printing operation in New York City, as a printer. Then he went to work for an aerospace company in Los Angeles that I will call N, as a System Engineer.

His education was also quite startling. While he was working full-time for N, he completed his B.S. in Chemistry in 1975, his M.S. in Physics in 1977, and his Ph.D. in Cosmology in 1978--all at a little college in Orange County that I had never heard of before--and that no one else had heard of, either. (I later saw them in a piece on diploma mills getting busted, many years later.)

I spent quite a bit of time trying to nail down exactly what he did in his Systems Engineer job--and I couldn't see that he did anything at all at N. He did expect a sizable raise to go to his next job, for which he was probably just as qualified. (And he did get a nice raise to go to his next job, where he was black Ph.D. in charge of sitting at the door.) So what was going on here? He was also married at that time to a rather prominent black politician in the California legislature (I'm not naming any names). He fulfilled N's minority professional quota, and he had a Ph.D. And while I don't know for sure, I suspect that being part of a politically important couple might have helped N with government contracts. So diploma mills did, at least back then, fulfill an important function for liberals--making it easier to fill minority quotas with unqualified workers, rather than fixing minority education so that there were qualified black engineers.

2. Calling yourself "Breyer State University" when you aren't in any way a state university, smells like fraud. There are a lot of state universities out there that have names that don't include the state. For example, my alma mater, Sonoma State University, is part of the California State University system. There are so many schools that are part of the CSU system that it would be very easy for someone elsewhere in the U.S. (or especially outside the U.S.) to assume that a college that calls itself "Breyer State University" and that is located in California, is part of the CSU system.

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