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New Jersey Bill Ties For-Profit College Degrees to Graduation Rates

TRENTON, N.J. ― New Jersey’s higher education secretary would be allowed to revoke the ability of for-profit colleges to award degrees if they fail to achieve minimum graduation rates under a bill advanced by lawmakers Thursday.

The Assembly Higher Education Committee sent it to the full chamber, though some legislative supporters thought the standards in the bill are too tough. The measure has not been introduced in the state Senate.

Proponents see the measure as a way to hold for-profit schools accountable. The schools, which include online institutions such as University of Phoenix and technical schools such as ITT Technical Institute, have grown in New Jersey and across the country.

Assemblyman Joe Cryan, a Democrat who is sponsoring the legislation, says 15,000 to 20,000 students in New Jersey are in the schools’ programs in any semester.

Under his proposal, schools could lose their ability to grant degrees if their graduation rates are too low. He wants to set the threshold at 75 percent of full-time students in four-year degree programs graduating within six years and the same percentage of full-time students in two-year programs finishing within three years.

He would also give the state’s higher education commissioner the power to let schools keep operating if they are making progress toward those standards. He noted just two nonprofit universities in New Jersey meet those standards: Princeton and The College of New Jersey. And if the proposed standards were applied immediately, all the state’s for-profit schools could be at risk.

“I don’t accept that reasonably well-run institutions can’t do it,” Cryan said Thursday at the hearing.

But Richard Van Wagner, a lobbyist for DeVry University, which has three campuses in the state, told the committee his clients oppose the bill because it places too much meaning in one statistic. “There’s a lot that should go into consideration,” he said, “not just the grad rate.”

He said about 40 percent of the school’s full-time students in four-year programs graduate in six years. Most of the students are not coming directly from high school, he said. Some graduate but take longer than that and others may realize that picking up a two-year degree is all they need to advance their careers.

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