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Editorial: Who’s Real Winner In Private Phoenix Deal?

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The administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has been a vocal advocate for making New Mexico’s taxation, regulation and incentive environment fairer to business. So why, two years in, is it picking a winner, and thus losers, in for-profit higher education?

The state has partnered with the pricey University of Phoenix to encourage state government employees to go back to school with a 10 percent break on the $11,340 annual tuition — which is more than double what New Mexico’s most expensive public schools charge.

Why not DeVry? Or National American University? Or any of the others that compete in this arena?

The state says it’s because the University of Phoenix offered. But New Mexico is already in the higher education business. It has eight universities and 17 community college/branch campuses.

For-profit universities offer evening and weekend hours that work better for many working students, and have enough going for them to be successful without state help. That said, the for-profit higher education sector is still reeling from a scathing 200-plus-page report released July 30 by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. It offers pointed criticism of the industry, with a bottom line of taxpayers forking over $32 billion to for-profit colleges in the last year while a majority of their students quit without a degree.

On the heels of that anti-endorsement, which you have to take with a grain of salt since it’s one government operation looking out for another, it doesn’t look so good that the state’s partnership follows a $5,000 donation from University of Phoenix’s parent company, the Apollo Group, that ended up in the account of Susana PAC, Martinez’s political action committee.

It is one thing for a private school to offer incentives so state employees “enhance their educational, professional and personal lives through higher education” — and a better educated, more competitive work force is a good thing. It is another for the state to build in an advantage for one huge politically active company whose chairman, John G. Sperling, pocketed $8,617,597 while the Senate committee report says his “company invested relatively little in students and struggled to retain associate degree students.”

For-profit higher education clearly offers enough alternatives and advantages so that it can compete. It doesn’t need this kind of state help, and it shouldn’t get it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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