A conceptual framework for understanding consumer protection standards in the state higher education regulations in the Southern Region
Over the years at postsecondary institutions nationwide, there have been numerous incidents of educational impropriety and malpractice involving fraud, deception, or a lack of proper communication to students. A majority of these problems are associated with the operations and practices of the postsecondary institutions themselves, particularly within the proprietary sector of higher education. These deceptive practices cheat consumers of their personal investments of time and money, and defraud the federal and state governments that support education with billions of dollars in student financial aid. It generally falls to the states to ensure that consumers of higher education have adequate protection, preservation of rights, and when applicable, restitution for damages. All 50 states have a process for assessing and evaluating the institutions in their state and the majority has taken steps to strengthen their licensing procedures, approval requirements, and enforcement practices to fulfill the expectations inherent in their role of higher education oversight. The purpose of this study is to analyze and compare the state regulations relative to consumer protection in higher education in the 11 states that comprise the Southern Region of the United States. This study found 88 different state standard related to student consumer protection in higher education. These standards were grouped into one of four categories based upon their intent to address practices related to (1) regulatory procedures; (2) institutional policies; (3) performance standards; or (4) academic quality standards. The data collected reveals there to be a great deal of variance and diversity in the role and functioning of the states in the provision of consumer protection both among the states as well as within each state as it pertains to the oversight of public and nonpublic institutions. Consequently, based on the regulations that have been promulgated by the states there is some variation in the effectiveness of the protection provided to consumers of higher education and some states are more comprehensive than others in providing adequate consumer protection in higher education.