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Greenberg: Spotlight Returns to For-Profit Schools

Keep an eye on for-profit schools today (Thursday), especially Bridgepoint Education.

Education
Education

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold the latest in a series of hearings on for-profit schools, with this highly unusual twist: It will focus exclusively on one company—Bridgepoint Education . The title of the hearing says it all: “Bridgepoint Education Inc.: A Case Study in For-Profit Education and Oversight.”

In a press release announcing the hearing, Chairman Tom Harkin gave a little flavor of what to expect:

“Bridgepoint Education’s growth in both enrollment and profits—even as their rates of student withdrawals and loan defaults climb—exemplifies the issues in the for-profit education industry,” said Harkin. “Using Bridgepoint as a case study will help us better understand how the practices of for-profit colleges impact their student’s chances for success. I am also eager to learn how these companies justify their record profits in the face of rising student loan default rates. Bridgepoint alone experienced a $135 million increase in profit in a single year—from $81 million to $216 million—as more than 60 percent of their students who enrolled in the Bachelor’s program between 2008 and 2009 withdrew by the summer of 2010. These numbers simply don’t add up.”

The big question: Will Bridgepoint CEO Andrew Clark show up? He’s s listed as having been invited, but the company responded Wednesday with a legally scrubbed canned response: “On March 1, 2011, we received correspondence from the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (“HELP Committee”) inviting our CEO and President to testify in a hearing scheduled for March 10, 2011 regarding Bridgepoint Education and Ashford University. Bridgepoint Education is reviewing the request.”

Other witnesses will include the Education Department’s inspector general and the president of the Higher Learning Commission, which has accredited Bridgepoint’s Ashford University.

I’ll be watching—and possibly live tweeting. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Sure enough, Bridgepoint decided not to show up. Read their press release here.

Questions? Comments? Write to HerbOnTheStreet@cnbc.com

Follow Herb on Twitter: @herbgreenberg

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