For-profit colleges in Tennessee, which were left out of the state's recent higher education overhaul, say they want the same transfer agreements with four-year colleges as community colleges have.
And these schools, many with satellite campuses in Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis, have hired some of the state's most influential lobbyists to plead their case with state legislators.
"We would absolutely like to work ourselves into getting articulation agreements (with universities)," said Anne Landis Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Independent Colleges and Schools, an organization of for-profit schools and colleges.
UT officials told University of Tennessee trustees at a recent board meeting there was growing concern about possible legislation to allow across-the-board transfer agreements for for-profit schools.
In January, Gov. Phil Bredesen signed a bill mandating statewide transfer agreements between community colleges and universities.
But UT officials argued that allowing a pipeline from for-profit schools, which do not have regional academic accreditation, would weaken a public bachelor's degree in Tennessee.
"I am not saying we need to go to war with proprietary schools ... but this is just the tip of the iceberg," Anthony Haynes, UT associate vice president of public and government relations, told UT trustees in February.
For-profit, or proprietary, schools have battled a lot of skepticism in Tennessee in recent years. In 2008 legislators - responding to growing complaints against the sector - pushed for increased oversight of schools such as Miller-Motte Technical College, Virginia College School of Business and Health and the National College of Business and Technology. At the time, some schools were being criticized for enrolling students without accreditation and closing without notifying students.
The hearings culminated in proprietary schools' being brought under the oversight of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
The 330 for-profit campuses in Tennessee now are monitored closely by THEC, which checks their dropout, job placement and loan default rates; financial stability; and academic faculty hiring.
Since then for-profit schools have been working to protect themselves against unfavorable bills in the Tennessee General Assembly. Dick Lodge, a longtime lobbyist who represents the Tennessee Bankers Association, United Healthcare and American Express, has been hired by Remington College in Memphis and Kaplan Higher Education Corp., an online education giant with an office in Nashville.
Bill Nolan, a lobbyist for Pilot Corp. and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, represents the National College of Business and Technology, which has six campuses in Tennessee.
"A third of our member schools have lobbyists," Ms. Williams said. "I think educating (people) about who we are is huge, showing why we are a viable choice to students."
With state oversight, leaders of for-profit schools say their students should be able to transfer the credits they earn for their associate degrees to bachelor's degree programs at state schools.
According to THEC regulations, schools must have a job placement rate of at least 75 percent and withdrawal rates cannot exceed 33 percent. Community colleges are not held to these standards, officials said.
Jack Clark, campus president of Virginia College in Chattanooga, which enrolls more than 550 students and offers three associate degrees in applied science, said he thinks most students who enter for-profit schools want to go directly into the work force but that a transfer option should be open to students.
Now, schools have to advertise clearly that their credits may not be accepted for transfer.
"I think we provide our students with a very good education," Mr. Clark said. "We are nationally accredited. I think what we do is very special."
But UT officials say they don't want to have to accept students from proprietary schools that do not have accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and aren't held to the same curriculum standards as state schools.
"(There is) general concern around the already depleted public resources. We would not want to see for-profit institutions competing in that arena," said Hank Dye, UT vice chancellor for public and government relations.
Ms. Williams said for-profit schools are working to form transfer agreements with universities on a case-by-case basis. The University of Memphis has agreements with some proprietary schools there, and she said the association is looking to use those partnerships as a model.
Legislation that would graft for-profit schools into statewide articulation agreements would be the next step, she said.
"We do want our credits to transfer, and we do want our students to achieve the success they want to achieve," she said.