For-profit college VP named to student aid panel

Gov. Jerry Brown this week named an East Bay woman to the California Student Aid Commission, but an article I read recently makes me wonder whether he’s appointed a fox to guard the henhouse.

Brown appointed Terri Bishop, 58, of Lafayette, to the California Student Aid Commission, the stated mission of which is “making education beyond high school financially accessible to all Californians. The appointment requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Bishop is a Democrat.

According to its website, the commission is “the principal state agency responsible for administering financial aid programs for students attending public and private universities, colleges, and vocational schools in California” and “provides financial aid policy analysis and leadership, in partnership with California’s colleges, universities, financial institutions, and financial aid associations.” It administers the Cal Grant program, which provides public money to students for use at colleges and universities within the state; the program has suffered grievous cuts in recent budgets, even as public university and community college tuitions have increased.

Bishop has worked at the Apollo Group – parent company of the University of Phoenix, a for-profit system of more than 200 campuses plus online learning – since 1997, including serving most recently as executive vice president of academic strategy and senior advisor to the chief executive officer. From 1989 to 1997, she was senior vice president of the Online Campus at the University of Phoenix.

Now, I don’t know Bishop, and I have no reason to doubt her or her motivations on an individual, personal or professional basis. But the hair on the back of my neck rose a bit when I read about this appointment, as I recalled an article in the October issue of Harper’s which cast the University of Phoenix and schools like it in a not-so-favorable light.

From that article:

Currently, proprietary institutions educate about one in ten American college students while taking in nearly a quarter of all Title IV funding – $4 billion in Pell Grants and $20 billion in guaranteed loans in 2009.

All this government funding is notable because enrolling at for-profit colleges turns out to be a terrible deal for most students. Almost three fifths drop out without a degree within a year, and virtually all take on debt to help pay for their education. They default on their loans at about twice the rate of students at public colleges and universities and three times the rate of students at private ones. Those who graduate often wind up in low-paying jobs, doing tasks with minimal connection to their degrees.

The article also notes that University of Phoenix gets about 88 percent of its revenue from federal funding.

Those one or two who get degrees and otherwise would have been shut out of the system may justify the cost of letting schools like Phoenix occupy such a prominent place in our educational landscape. What isn’t clear is how many Americans understand that this is the bargain we’ve signed up for: throwing enormous resources at places like Phoenix so that they can graduate one or two out of every twenty entering freshmen.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    “Bishop is a Democrat.”

    And she was appointed by Jerry Brown.

    And that’s all you need to know about that.

  • Rick K.

    This newspaper should ask Gov. Brown’s press secretary to explain why he appointed Ms. Bishop. The student loan bubble is the next to burst. I share Mr. Richman’s concern.

  • rew

    Nice article by Josh. As I understand it, the guy who “owns” University of Phoenix has become a billionaire as a result of all these federal grants and loan dollars flowing into his school. This has happened because his college has little overhead, hardly any bricks and motor, the employees of the school are all “temps”. Whenever I see a University of Phoenix commercial – the college advertises like crazy, I think there goes more federal money down the drain. I just don’t consider this University of Phoenix a real college, it looks to me like the owner of the college has found a way to scam the system. I’m totally supportive of Pell Grants and Student loans being made available to needy would-be-students, but it pains me to see those students taking this funding and giving it to a school like University of Phoenix, a college that charges huge tuition – a lot of this money goes for these commercials you keep seeing – and doesn’t appear to deliver much to students. Does a University of Phoenix degree have any cachet? Don’t you just have to be breathing and have access to grants and loans to be admitted? Is this good for the student? Is this good for the federal budget? These are all questions I have when I think about these proprietary schools. There are good schools in this category – Heald is very good I hear – but so many of these colleges appear to be fly by night outfits, for-profit business posing as colleges. I’d like to see our local Congressman George Miller – who is ranking member of the House Education commitee look into this. It concerns me that young people are being lured into these schools with advertising, promised they will get jobs when they are done, but then only ending up with a lot of debt and wasted time. I think a lot of these people who enroll in these colleges are unsophisticated, you can get a lot of the training they are paying for at community colleges for a lot cheaper. Community College degrees are respected by employers, a lot of these degrees from fly by night diploma mills are not. So I am somewhat concerned that Jerry Brown would appoint somebody from one of these questionable colleges – the ones doing all that advertising and draining federal budget – to a job with the student aid commission. University of Phoenix may not be one of the worst offenders, but the college is “owned” by this billionaire who flies around on private jets. Maybe he is gouging the students? I think so. I think it would be good to lift the curtain on these for-profit-colleges, maybe have some Congressional hearings or something.

  • The Truth Ferret

    The truth is that everyone involved in education should be very wary of this appointment. As a former employee of two for-profits, I can attest to their fraud-infested practices in obtaining Federal financial aid for ALL students ANY WAY POSSIBLE. And the for-profit industry has had record low enrollment the last two quarters of 2011 with only more investigations and lawsuits opened by Attorneys General of at least 20 states filing fraud suits against them.

    Yes, citizens, taxpayers, educators, media — BEWARE!

  • rew

    God point Truth Feret. I was reading somewhere the Washington Post owns this for-profit college – Kaplan College, and during this hideous recession this for profit school they own was so profitable that revenue from it made up like 80% of the Posts profits over a period of years The Post was bleeding ink, but this for-profit diploma mill was raking in the dough, thanks to Uncle Sam’s increasingly bloated federal deficit. Apparently management of the school had these car salesmen type “counselors” that were aggresively selling the college to would be students – they would get bonuses based on the number of desperate, out of work people they talk into enrolling into this diploma mill. The students end up with huge federal debts, and they eventually use up Pell Grants. But the school isn’t much, employers don’t respect it, – student were not getting jobs – so many students were throwing time and money away. The whole thing was just so unsavory, yet this was the Washington Post! Geez, rather than exposing the corruption here they were getting in on it. The Washington Post! Were in a lot of trouble when diploma mills are becoming an important source of revenue for major corporations. I think this money – the student loans, and Pell Grant money, ought to be cut off to these fly by night colleges. Once it is, then prospective students will enroll in community college and state colleges, the people who run these colleges are pros, they know how to deliver a quality education, they aren’t ripping off out-of-work workers.

  • Joey

    I absolutely agree. What a hideous appointment. Brown should be embarrassed. This person been a senior manager at a company that has used our tax dollars to ruin the financial lives of hundreds of thousands of young persons in California. Now she is given a leadership position in state government to further enrich for-profit universities. This is a scandal. To really make the story though you need to research the amount of money the Appollo Group or senior executives at the Appollo Group have pumped into Brown’s campaign for governor or campaign committees under his control or for the purposes of passing initiatives he is proposing. Follow the money.