As news of the pending sale and closure of the Corinthian colleges has spread, it is a good time to examine the comparative roles of the public colleges and "for-profits" in California.

The California's Community College system, codified under the California Master Plan for Higher Education in the 1960s, has provided an open door to a better life for generations of poor and working-class Californians at a bargain price.

These are members of our community who would otherwise never have such opportunities, or who would incur such crushing debt that the quality of their lives after attaining their degrees would be forever altered for the worse.

Students fill an art class to capacity in one of the large lecture rooms in the 800 building at Chabot College on March 25, 2013, in Hayward.
Students fill an art class to capacity in one of the large lecture rooms in the 800 building at Chabot College on March 25, 2013, in Hayward. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Over the last decade, funding cuts in state budgets caused by the Great Recession resulted in loss of hundreds of millions of dollars cut from public education.

This has tragically translated to lost educational opportunities for more than half a million students at the community colleges.

Now, as the economy improves, funding is returning to the public colleges. Proposition 30 and the governor's budget are giving the system a major boost, enabling the system to make room for tens of thousands more students each year. The investment is paying off as these graduates enter our communities' work force with minimal debt, contributing their talents to all of us.


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Given the opportunities for high-value courses of study at the community colleges at a fraction of the cost of for-profit programs, it is something of a mystery that for-profits, such as Heald, Everest, and Wyo-Tech (all part of the Corinthian Group), were able to recruit so many thousands of California students.

Reasons may include that the loss of seats and overcrowding in community college classrooms simply compelled those ambitious students to make a devil's bargain with loan debt encumbrance at the for-profit education companies. Now, at the same time funding is being restored to the community colleges, a harsh light is being shone on the recruiting practices of the for-profit education industry.

For example, Attorney General Kamala Harris alleges in a lawsuit Corinthian routinely practiced "false advertising" specifically geared at attracting low-income students, minorities and single mothers with untrue claims about job-placement rates.

According to the attorney general, Corinthian Colleges also misused official U.S. military seals in advertising to attract federal veteran dollars under the GI Bill. Harris could not have been blunter in her public statement: "Corinthian College was serving not as an educator but as a predator of some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

Many students appear to have emerged from their experiences in the Corinthian Colleges without job prospects and with crippling loan debt. We are now seeing many of them coming to salvage a course of study and career at the community colleges.

The good news is that seats are now rapidly being restored across the community college system and we are ready for new students. Just as the large chain of for-profit colleges operated by Corinthian, a corporation whose stocks are publicly traded on the stock exchange, faces closure, the California community colleges are receiving much-needed restoration of public funding lost during the recession.

These new students will not be disappointed. At Chabot College, many of our faculty have doctorates and masters degrees from nationally prominent universities, including Berkeley and Stanford, and all of us at the college are committed to providing students the best educational experience.

In our career-technical areas, faculty come from accomplished careers (for example, a number of our Administration of Justice faculty are police chiefs of surrounding communities).

Statewide, 80 percent of firefighters, law enforcement personnel and emergency medical technicians completed their degrees at a California community college; the same is true for 70 percent of our state's nurses. More than half of California State University students start at the community colleges and 48 percent of UC's bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are community college transfer students.

I've often wondered if we are so busy working that we don't often stop to tell our own story. We are far and away the best deal in town.

Susan Sperling is president of Chabot College.