Higher ed community focuses on Post, Kaplan
In a lead news article today headlined "Watching a Watchdog," the industry publication Inside Higher Ed draws attention to what it terms rising concerns among higher education observers about the editorial independence of The Washington Post in covering for-profit higher education.
The concerns center on an editorial published in The Post on Sunday, as well as "direct lobbying by a leader of the legendary Graham family" on behalf of the for-profit Kaplan higher education unit of The Washington Post Co.
Before I go on, some disclaimers. . .
I cover for-profit higher education at the Post, along with colleague Nick Anderson, the national education reporter, and occasionally others in the newsroom. The Post has a separate editorial board, whose job is to form and publish opinions on issues of the day. The two operations are designed to operate independently. The Post's news coverage and editorial stance have been scrutinized for as long as the federal government has focused regulatory attention on for-profit higher education. Our newspaper's independent ombudsman discussed that coverage over the weekend, reaching the conclusion that the paper has been appropriately transparent in disclosing its considerable stake in the outcome of proposed new federal regulations.
(To see some of our previous news coverage, click here or simply type in the words "for-profit colleges" in the search field on The Washington Post home page.)
According to the Inside Higher Ed account, some policymakers and higher education leaders were struck by the tone of The Post editorial Sunday, which, the article said, "took a stance that could've come straight out of Kaplan's playbook." The editorial opposed the current regulatory stance. By contrast, editorial boards of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have favored regulation in their editorials on the subject.
The Post editorial argued that regulation would constrict the for-profit sector, effectively narrowing the educational options of students. And, it contended, "the more options available to parents and students, the better." The editorial disclosed the company's interest in Kaplan.
Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, supports stronger government regulations. She told Inside Higher Ed she was surprised by the editorial, "not just to see The Post editorializing on this issue, but to look at what the board is saying." She and many others in higher education agree with the government position that for-profit colleges are in need of more government oversight.
I asked Marcus W. Brauchli, executive editor of The Post, for comment on the criticism. Speaking for the news operation he runs, Brauchli wrote:
"The Post's newsroom operates independently from the editorial page and from other businesses owned by our parent company. We cover the news as we see it, even when it affects other parts of the company, and we cover it without regard to the views of our editorial page."
Inside Higher Ed reports that Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Post Co., has "visited several members of Congress to lobby on Kaplan's behalf," sourcing the statement to a staffer for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The article notes that a man of Graham's stature would "get an open door in any congressional office".
I asked Graham about the lobbying efforts. He told me this afternoon in a telephone interview: "I don't do it unless the issue is of central importance to our company, and this one is." He said he spoke to lawmakers in response to the rising pitch of criticism of the for-profit sector. "I'm very glad of what Kaplan Higher Education does, and very proud to speak out for it," he said. "I'm speaking up as I think any CEO of a corporation should."
The Inside Higher Ed article quotes Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education, who represents non-profit and for-profit colleges. Hartle has this to say about Graham's lobbying: "For the first time in my memory a leading news organization is wading into a public policy debate unrelated to their primary business."
The Post Co., in fact, drew more than half of its revenue in the most recent fiscal year from Kaplan, whose higher education division has grown hand over fist in recent years, along with the rest of the burgeoning sector.
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Daniel de Vise
August 24, 2010; 3:28 PM ET
Categories: For-profit colleges , Public policy | Tags: For-profit colleges, Kaplan Washington Post, Washington Post for-profit, for-profit higher education
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