For-Profit-College Group Bars News Media From Key Sessions at Annual Meeting

May 22, 2012

So much for the talk about for-profit colleges' getting used to public scrutiny? At the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities' annual meeting next month in Las Vegas, nearly a quarter of the 65 sessions will be closed to reporters and other nonmembers. Many of the closed sessions concern how the colleges are complying with new regulations on student recruiting and student-loan practices.

Among the "members only" sessions: "What the New Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Means for Private Sector Colleges and Universities" and "The Anti-Social Network: The Risks of Students' and Employees' Use of Social Media." Sessions on the status of federal legislation, on dealing with the Department of Education's beefed-up auditing effort, and on "Advice From our Forefathers," featuring five longtime leaders of the for-profit-college industry, are also closed.

The decision to close many sessions related to some of the most pressing issues facing the for-profit-college sector is a change from the approach the association took in the past several years under its prior president, Harris N. Miller. The decision also echoed the temporary ban on reporters that the association imposed in 2005.

The association's new president, Steve Gunderson, has said his goals for the group are to have its colleges regarded like all other institutions of higher education and to get used to the idea that increased public scrutiny is an inevitable consequence of the colleges' growing national profile. Most national meetings of other higher-education associations are largely open to the news media.

Mr. Gunderson was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday. A public-relations consultant for the group said "a good number" of sessions would still be open.

The association's annual meeting typically draws about 1,500 people, including college owners and administrators, prospective investors, and hundreds of people from companies that sell services to the colleges. This year former President George W. Bush will give the keynote address. (That's open.)

The exhibit hall, a particularly festive part of the meeting, will also be open to the press. It's where "default management" companies, which help colleges keep their student-loan-default rates from getting so high that they lose access to federal student aid, ply their services, and where "lead generation" firms, which help colleges locate names of prospective students, vie for attention with splashy booths. At last year's meeting, in Grapevine, Tex., one such firm brought in a Nascar driver and race-car simulator for attendees to try out.

The meeting this year runs from June 20 to 22.