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Who Regulates US Colleges and Universities?

“Is this a good school?”

This is one of the primary worries of overseas parents. In the debate over the use of agents in recruiting students, we often forget this concern. With our rich tradition of high school advisors and overall sense of what makes a quality school, this seems to be a minor concern in the United States. Overseas, however, it isn’t. To be successful at recruiting students overseas, schools must realize that the environment will differ greatly from the one at home. Traditional schools must also realize that they are competing in a very commercial arena.

In the United States, education has become big business. American ideals such as Capitalism and Free Enterprise have brought great amounts of investment and innovation to higher education and opened doors to millions of students who, in the resource-constrained public education sector, may not have had such opportunities. A number of for-profit companies have been formed to serve as universities, some operating nationally. These companies have begun serving the adult student sector, created a vibrant online model for higher education, and started to look toward extending their success internationally.

Who Regulates Schools?

School regulation in the United States is a complex subject, as there is no constitutional right to an education, thus education laws have come from fifty separate state governments. To provide consistency across the country, the schools themselves have built a rich history of self-governance through the process of accreditation and professional standards. In recent years, the role of the United States federal government has grown. The Department of Education continues to put regulations in effect that, in essence, become the law of the land, though large gaps still exist and leave the system open to exploitation.

Substandard Universities

One of these levels of exploitation comes from the Diploma Mills that have plagued the American higher education system for years. With a growing number of international students, lack of regulation poses a threat to unsuspecting foreign students. Substandard schools are able to operate, as many states do not require inspections and operational reviews before issuing licenses. Once these schools are legally licensed to operate, the federal government allows issuance of student visas. Substandard schools often form their own accrediting bodies to avoid the scrutiny of regional accreditation, the highest level of accreditation, which has enabled a number of bogus accreditors to operate over the years.

Imagine you are a foreign student, browsing the Internet for schools, and you discover this – “The University of Northern Virginia is certified to operate in Virginia by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). UNVA is authorized by the United States Government to enroll non-immigrant alien students.” With the very desirable location “Northern Virginia” and the well-respected moniker “university,” you naturally might be inclined to consider this school. This could lead to an unfortunate experience, as The University of Northern Virginia has been described as a “sham university,” though this institution continues to operate and accept government-approved student visas. The University of Northern Virginia seems to be the worst of the for-profit sector, operating in between the gaps in the American regulatory system and making millions off foreign students.

From the consumer perspective, the United States government has taken little or no interest in The University of Northern Virginia. No federal money goes to this school; no taxpayer money is at risk. As long as the University of Northern Virginia follows state laws, immigration officials will remain uninvolved unless they detect risk of a migration scam and the free enterprise advocates in the government’s commercial service will resist any restraint of the institution. In a previous article, AAE called on schools to only work with certified agents. We also call on our fellow agents to only work with credible, accredited (certified) schools, and for the United States government to only allow legitimately accredited schools to issue I-20’s (the documents that lead to student visas).

Mark Shay is a business developer with a long history of success helping higher education institutions recruit students. In an illustrative career that has spanned three decades, Shay has served thousands of customers, ranging from individual faculty members and graduate deans, to university presidents and foreign governments. He is well known for balancing the non-commercial spirit of educators with the commercial realities of operating efficiently and effectively using technology to improve results. He founded, and has worked in leadership roles at two universities and IDP Education. He has recently started a consulting practice and is serving as an advisor to AAE. Mark is also the editor of ChinaTrend: Insights into the Higher Education market in China


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