For-profit institutions “have managed to … carve out a policy role for themselves [that might] not be appropriate,” he said, pointing out that Peter Smith, an official at for-profit Kaplan University, served as a contributor to the task force’s report. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are various vested interests suggesting rather unhelpful things … and trying to privatize something that has historically been subsidized by the state.”

Nassirian said years of well-documented research has shown many for-profits offer courses inferior to traditional schools while charging many times the tuition.

“It’s very likely to represent a complete diminution of quality and a huge increase in price,” he said. “How you can justify that to students, I don’t know.”

Nevada higher-education officials were skeptical of the virtual college proposal.

Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada (CSN), said in a blog post that he is “opposed to the creation of a Nevada Virtual College as a separate, degree-granting institution, and I would submit the CSN is already Nevada’s virtual college, given the scope of offerings, the technology support system in place, faculty oversight, and student services tools available.”

CSN has more than 300 online courses – and more than 900 class sections – along with 30 degree and certificate programs offered through web-based courses, Richards said, adding that the online classes meet the “same standards of rigor and quality” as traditional classroom courses.

“Accreditation for CSN’s online program is already through CSN,” Richards wrote. “A new institution and process is not needed.”

The U.S. Department of Education created new rules this year that would strip federal student aid from for-profit colleges that don’t meet certain criteria. The regulations are meant to ensure that students aren’t graduating from for-profit colleges unqualified for the professional world and burdened with excessive student loan debt.


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