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The Journal Gazette

  • File Brown Mackie College

Thursday, June 16, 2016 7:35 am

College's closure reflects scrutiny of industry

A Brown Mackie College spokesman says declining enrollment, not a federal whistleblower suit, is the reason the for-profit company is shutting its Coliseum Boulevard campus in 2018.

But publicity surrounding the suit, which ended with Brown Mackie’s parent corporation paying almost $96 million, inevitably was responsible for the declining enrollment. Students and taxpayers are the winners.

Warnings about the high-pressure recruiting tactics of some for-profit schools, along with the "gainful employment regulations" set by the Obama administration in 2014, represented significant new obstacles for the company. A recommendation from the U.S. Department of Education to end recognition of the for-profit schools’ accrediting organization will further stem the flow of taxpayer dollars. Without accreditation, the colleges are ineligible for federal student grants and loans, which amounted to $4.76 billion last year.

The lawsuit and increased regulation were sorely needed in the for-profit college industry. Brown Mackie’s operator, Education Management Corp., was investigated or sued by prosecutors in a dozen states. The U.S. Justice Department accused the company of using incentives to pay its recruiters, which is illegal. The whistleblower lawsuit charged that the company engaged in deceptive enrollment practices and manipulated federal student loan and grant programs.

The local Brown Mackie College is one of five in Indiana set to close. Nationwide, 22 campuses will close. The spokesman told The Journal Gazette’s Jamie Duffy that Fort Wayne enrollment is about 200.

Students will find a much more affordable option in Ivy Tech Community College, where in-state tuition is $4,115 a year. Annual tuition at Brown Mackie is $12,672, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The region is sorely in need of residents with college degrees and certifications, but programs that prepare students for relatively low-wage jobs while leaving them with crushing debt do little to serve northeast Indiana. Efforts by the state and federal government to hold accountable for-profit companies like Education Management Corp. were overdue but certainly welcome.