Marshall Hill, director of an agency that has some oversight over higher education in the state, wants more authority over for-profit schools and colleges.

His proposal is worth considering. There's evidence of a need for tighter regulation.

The new authority also would give more public value to the agency that Hill heads, the Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education.

For-profit schools are grabbing a growing share of higher education in the United States. About 11 percent of students in higher education are enrolled in for-profit schools.

Some of the schools have engaged in unsavory practices in other parts of the country. Undercover investigators posing as college applicants encountered deceptive practices or fraud at each of the 15 campuses they visited, the Government Accountability Office reported earlier this year.

The investigators were told not to report savings and to lie about the number of dependents in order to get bigger loans.

Counselors also provided exaggerated estimates of how much students could make after they earned their degrees.

Repayment rates at for-profit institutions are only 36 percent, compared with 54 percent at public institutions and 56 percent at private nonprofit institutions. The percentages include students who have been excused temporarily from repayment because of financial hardship.

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In the past year, there were two attempts by for-profit schools to expand in Nebraska.

Plans by investors to buy Dana College and turn it into a for-profit college fell through this year when the college lost its accreditation. Among the reasons the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools cited for its decision was the buyer's alleged inability to protect the college's "institutional and educational integrity."

In a separate development, Herzing University won approval from the postsecondary coordinating commission to open a new campus in Lincoln and to expand one in Omaha after Herzing officials withdrew controversial plans to offer physical therapist assistant and surgical technology associate degrees and a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Hill said a weakness in current oversight is that once a school is given authority to operate in Nebraska, that approval remains in effect for perpetuity. He suggested a change in state law to require a for-profit school to renew its approval every five years.

Hill has identified a job that's worth doing. Senators should look for ways to assign the new oversight responsibility without adding to the state's higher education bureacracy.


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