For-profit colleges will have to be more forthcoming about information they’ve considered proprietary up to now. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation yesterday that requires for-profit colleges to inform prospective students about their accreditation status, salaries, student loan default rates, and whether graduates have found work in the fields they were trained for.

“We want students to make informed choices before they make sizeable investments in their future,” said Assemblymember Marty Block, a San Diego Democrat who introduced AB 2296.  “The basic information required under this bill helps make students smart consumers, and will especially assist veterans as they seek to earn degrees and career training for their transition to civilian life.”

Veterans groups were especially supportive of the bill. They say the colleges aggressively recruit vets because of their GI benefits. In a letter urging Gov. Brown to sign the bill, a coalition including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America-California State Council, and the VFW-Department of California, wrote that many of the colleges aggressively recruit veterans, “not only depleting the veteran’s GI benefits and incurring student debt, but leaving them with a substandard degree.”

Although one in ten students in California attends a for-profit college, those schools account for two-thirds of all student loan defaulters, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Meanwhile, the six-year graduation rate for baccalaureate degrees is 22 percent, compared to 55 percent at public colleges and 65 percent at nonprofit private schools.

Online ed funding

The governor also signed a bill allowing school districts and county offices of education to receive average daily attendance (ADA) funding for online courses.

AB 644, by Democratic Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield of Van Nuys, kicks in starting in the 2014-15 school year. At that time, according to the bill, high schools offering online courses “under the supervision and control of a certificated employee of the school district or county office of education” would be able to claim state ADA funding as long as there are procedures in place to ensure that students are attending the courses and that the classes have regular schedules just as traditional courses do.

“The state’s classrooms remain stuck in the 20th century and have failed to embrace a changed world full of innovation and technology – despite California being the cradle of the technological revolution,” wrote Blumenfield in the bill’s analysis. “If California aspires to compete with other states and nations as an economic engine, it must make dramatic changes in its classrooms to usher in a meaningful 21st century education and it must make them soon.”

The bill will apply only to “synchronous” online courses in which a teacher offers instruction in real time to students observing on their computers. These courses comprise a sliver of online offerings. The trend is toward asynchronous courses, in which students watch podcasts and communicate with teachers and each other throughout the week by email and through social networks. Earlier versions of the bill would have applied to them as well.

Online courses currently are treated as if they’re independent study courses, for purposes of accountability and funding, requiring individual signed agreements with parents and involving a lot of red tape, said Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center. AB 644 is “at least a wedge in the door” for making it easier for students to learn online, he said. But David Haglund, who runs Riverside Unified’s Riverside Virtual School, said he worries that the Legislature will assume it has now solved online learning problems and ignore larger, unresolved issues.

Brown vetoes student discipline bill

Even a watered-down version of a bill seeking to address concerns over excessive student suspensions did not make it past Gov. Brown. He vetoed SB 1235, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield).

The measure urged school districts that suspended 25 percent or more of their total student enrollment or of a significant subgroup of students to implement strategies aimed at changing student behavior and keeping them in school as much as possible. It called on the State Department of Education to provide training and assistance to help schools implement these programs and strategies.

Using a similar argument to that in his veto message earlier this week of AB 2242, another student discipline bill, the governor again cited local control in rejecting SB 1235. “My preference is to leave the matter of student suspension to local school boards and the citizens who elect them,” he wrote.

Sen. Steinberg called the veto “a missed opportunity to keep more of our kids in school.” He cited research showing the success of good behavioral intervention for getting students engaged in school. “When students are kicked off campus and sent home for relatively minor and non-violent disciplinary problems, too often it simply becomes an unsupervised vacation. They fall further behind in school and their behavior doesn’t change.”

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