NEWS DAY | Big Brother Bob Fletcher / Zinging SJU and the Freedom Foundation / When colleges lie – and profit

Big Brother Bob Fletcher is watching you and he wants you to watch your neighbors, too. He has just rolled out a spy site on the web, where would-be watchers can choose one of ten cameras to watch. They’re pretty boring, but some criminal someday may be stupid enough to do something unlawful while you are watching. This is all part of the continuing RNC security saga, which funded more than a hundred spy cams for the Twin Cities. If you remember, the St. Paul police had lots of cameras, but no one watching – Lights, cameras — but no action for St. Paul police. Fletcher has been planning his web cop project since at least January.

St. John’s University and the Freedom Foundation may be unlikely bedfellows, but Bob Collins zings both of them in his NewsCut blog. SJU just terminated Nick Coleman’s gig there, due to his political opinions. The Freedom Foundation criticized Woodbury’s ice rink upgrade as a waste of taxpayer dollars, but failed to note that the upgrade’s energy efficiencies will actually generate “a $3.9 million return on a $2.3 million investment.”

The Nick Coleman story is told at greater length in City Pages, including major donors’ threats to give no more money to SJU unless they terminated Coleman’s status as a Senior Fellow of the Eugene McCarthy Center.

Coleman quickly scanned the center’s website. The lecture series named after Mark Kennedy, the former Republican state senator and staunch pro-lifer, was still prominently associated with the school.

“I do think something is out of whack when he’s a part of it and a liberal columnist can’t be,” Coleman says of Kennedy.

Two donors objected to Coleman’s criticism of corporations and of Tim Pawlenty, specifically, and more generally to his entire tone.

The ultimate irony is that Eugene McCarthy was definitely at least as leftist and partisan as Nick Coleman.

For-profit colleges lie to their students, according to a GAO report based on an undercover investigation.

Undercover tests at 15 for-profit colleges found that 4 colleges encouraged fraudulent practices and that all 15 made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to GAO’s undercover applicants.

The GAO investigation was launched because of huge enrollment growth in for-profit colleges, funded in large part by federal grants and loans. Enrollment has grown “from about 365,000 students to almost 1.8 million in the last several years,” said the report, which also found that students paid more than $4 billion in Pell Grants and more than $20 billion in federal loans to the colleges in 2009.

Degrees and certificates cost substantially more at for-profit colleges, with one particularly egregious example of a program for a massage therapy certificate costing $14,000 at a for-profit college compared to $520 at a nearby community college. Students who finance their for-profit college studies through student loans have a markedly higher default rate. That may be due in part to their inability to find the kinds of jobs they were led to expect. According to the report:

Admissions or financial aid representatives at all 15 for-profit colleges provided our undercover applicants with deceptive or otherwise questionable statements. These deceptive and questionable statements included information about the college’s accreditation, graduation rates and its student’s prospective employment and salary qualifications, duration and cost of the program, or financial aid. Representatives at schools also employed hard-sell sales and marketing techniques to encourage students to enroll.

The GAO investigators also found some instances of employees at for-profit colleges giving accurate information to prospective students.

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