State’s licensing division to review proposed rule changes for trade schools

The Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure has scheduled a Thursday hearing to consider updating regulations for private occupational schools following allegations that some of these schools have engaged in deceptive advertising.

The hearings are expected to focus on proposals to update licensing requirements for these schools and their sales representatives. Among other things, proposed regulations look at a school’s curriculum and the equipment a school uses for instructional purposes.

Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony is scheduled to testify at the start of the hearing. Anthony also serves as chair of the Advisory Council on Private Occupational Schools. 

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For-profit trade schools have become the subject of considerable attention in the last year or so. More than 30 states, including Massachusetts, have been investigating the industry. A Globe story from last May noted that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was examining about a dozen schools. Coakley’s office has sued two schools and settled one case.

In their advertising, some of these schools claim that their graduates can easily land a well-paying job. But there have been allegations that some schools have inflated their graduations rates and job-placement statistics. 

While Thursday’s hearing will focus on proposals to toughen licensing requirements for such schools, Coakley’s office has proposed separate regulations that would update the Commonwealth’s consumer protection law. One priority of the attorney general’s office is enforcing this consumer protection law, which is also known as 93A.

One regulation under review would require schools to disclose, in their ads and recruitment literature, “accurate and readily comparable information about tuition and fees, placement statistics, graduation rates, and program completion time,” a Coakley press release from January said.

“Based on our investigation of the for profit schools industry, we believe that stronger regulations around consumer protections and oversight of these entities is necessary, which is why we are in the process of finalizing regulations relative to 93A,” Coakley spokesman Brad Puffer wrote in an e-mail. “We are pleased that the DPL (the Division of Professional Licensure) has also proposed significant changes to the licensing requirements for these schools as we work to address these important concerns in a comprehensive way.”