ATLANTA — A review of a state commission tasked with evaluating for-profit schools has raised questions about Georgia’s oversight of the institution, and the commission’s director say the organization would likely be more effective with more resources.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that the Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission has certified that for-profit schools and institutions met state standards despite some schools providing incomplete or inaccurate information about their finances, enrollment and more.
The commission is responsible for sending staff members to evaluate for-profit schools and institutions throughout the state at least once a year. A sample of the commission’s evaluation records showed that administrators didn’t regularly verify the schools’ student job placement rates, according to the newspaper’s review. The brief visits were announced to school administrators beforehand and the newspaper reported that short, handwritten notes about each institution’s evaluation were recorded on a single form.
A student of a career college in Conyers told the newspaper she and two classmates contacted the commission for help after instructors began cutting classes short, coming to class late and sometimes failing to show up at all.
“We just wanted what we paid for,” said Kelly Norton-Howard. “We made sacrifices, and it just became more and more apparent that that meant nothing.” She and two classmates are instead suing the school in small claims court.
Although state law gives the commission’s executive board the power to subpoena records and compel school officials to answer questions under oath, commission director Bill Crews said the organization has never issued one.
“Much of what we do, schools will just give us the information we need,” Crews said. “If there are issues, then they are going to give it to us because we are the regulatory agency.”
Last year the state auditor issued a report saying the commission’s process for evaluating schools’ financial stability is vague and determinations on the schools’ financial viability are usually based on self-reported information, not audited information.
Auditors also said the commission has no way of knowing whether students are benefiting from attending schools the commission authorizes to operate in the state, so prospective students can’t make informed decisions before enrolling in them.
Crews said the number of for-profit schools in Georgia has risen in recent years, but his staff hasn’t expanded to match that growth. The commission’s annual budget is $787,683 and four full-time standards administrators are responsible for evaluating roughly 84 schools each with help from several part-time administrators.
“If we were a perfect regulatory agency we would have at least one investigator and probably an in-house attorney,” he said.