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Old 10-11-2010, 06:46 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Oregon
For-Profit Colleges: Valuable Educational Resource or Waste of Money?

Many months ago I watched this episode of Frontline, which you can watch in segments here: FRONTLINE: college, inc.: watch the full program online | PBS It looked at the burgeoning industry of for-profit post-secondary education, wherein a school educates students not for the benefit of educating students, but for a profit passed on to shareholders.

Then, this morning, while reading the NYTimes, I came across an interesting op-ed about for-profit colleges and some of the problems associated with them, written by a teacher for a for-profit college:


Degrees of Debt
by Jeremy Dehn

THE Senate recently held hearings on for-profit colleges, investigating charges that the schools rake in federal loan money while failing to adequately educate students. Critics point to deceptive sales tactics, fraudulent loan applications, high drop-out rates and even higher tuitions. In response, the Department of Education has proposed a ďgainful employmentĒ rule, which would cut financing to for-profit colleges that graduate (or fail) students with thousands of dollars of debt and no prospect of salaries high enough to pay them off.

As an adjunct professor who teaches at one of these vilified colleges, I wish I could say the critics are wrong. Theyíre not. The gainful employment rule is a step in the right direction, but it is only the beginning of what needs to be done.

I teach at state and nonprofit schools too, and Iíve worked alongside dedicated teachers in all three programs. But Iíve also seen how for-profit schoolsí mandate to serve both students and shareholders leads to big differences between the public and for-profit models.

First thereís the cost: For-profit colleges are often much more expensive than comparable public ones. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, one for-profit institution charged $14,000 for a certificate in computer-aided drafting that a local community college offered for just $520.

Then thereís the issue of how the cost is covered: for-profit colleges take a disproportionate share of federal education loans. Although only 12 percent of post-secondary students go to for-profit colleges, they account for 23 percent of federal loans. And students at for-profit schools default on their loans twice as often as their public school counterparts, leaving taxpayers with the bill.

This is partly due to the open enrollment policies at for-profit colleges. Itís disturbingly easy to get accepted, receive thousands of dollars in loans and then flunk out with crippling debt and no degree to show for it. Iím about to fail 4 out of 11 students in one of my classes because they simply stopped showing up. Some students will fail anywhere, but at this rate itís clear that many of them should never have been sold on the program in the first place.

Iíve also been on the other end of these sales tactics. I once looked into taking a class at a for-profit college. The admissions counselor was quite skillful at avoiding my questions about costs, and pressed me to enroll in a full degree program, despite my repeated refusals.

Problems with the for-profit business model donít end with recruitment; they extend to the classroom. While my nonprofit orientation covered how to create a syllabus and relate to students, the for-profit session addressed the importance of creating paper trails on attendance, should a student need to be flunked, and a video on how to avoid getting sued.

Hereís the part thatís really going to make me unpopular at my next faculty meeting. Many of my colleagues are excellent teachers, but their qualifications arenít much of a priority for the college. While teachers at a state or private university are typically expected to hold M.F.A.ís or Ph.D.ís, for-profit teachers need only to have taken a few hours of graduate course work.

Teachers at for-profits are paid less, and work more. Full-time instructors teach up to four times as many classes as their state school counterparts. And although nobody teaches only for the money ó I gross just over $30,000 a year, summers on, no benefits ó I earn 50 percent to 65 percent more at nonprofits. I try to treat both jobs with the same seriousness, but Iíd be lying if I said this was always the case.

The business model of for-profit schools may pay off for shareholders ó just ask Goldman Sachs, which controls a third of the parent company of my for-profit employer, the Art Institute of Colorado ó but it clearly isnít as effective at educating students.

In recent weeks, Iíve received disheartening e-mails from students urging me to fight to ďsave financial aidĒ; the colleges have been organizing students to campaign against the gainful employment rule. Which they clearly donít understand is in their best interests. And lobbyists have been highlighting the large number of poor and minority students at for-profits, who they claim will suffer most if the gainful employment rule cuts loan eligibility. But these are the students most hurt by for-profit collegesí predatory practices, and the ones most in need of a more reasonably priced education.

The real problem thatís being ignored in this debate is that more Americans than ever are now trying to pull themselves out of the recession through education, and there arenít enough affordable degree programs to serve them.

Of course we should crack down on for-profit colleges that exploit students and taxpayers. Education should lead students out of poverty, not into it. But thatís not enough. We need to quit subsidizing for-profit colleges, and instead devote our resources to expanding and improving the system of state and community colleges that work more effectively for a small fraction of the cost.

It shouldnít take an overpriced education to recognize that this is the right approach.

Jeremy Dehn teaches film and video production at the University of Denver, the Art Institute of Colorado and the University of Colorado at Denver.
What do you think about for-profit colleges?

My brief take: Dehn is right in that a lot of federal financial aid goes to these schools. While I do think it's right to subsidize the education of others as a means of elevating them out of poverty, I don't think subsidizing education at a for-profit college is the way to go about it, because ultimately those subsidies are just being passed on to a shareholder instead of being reinvested in the institution for the benefit of other students.
If I am not better, at least I am different. --Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:37 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Location: essex ma
there's alot that could be said about this. maybe when i'm less busy, in conjunction with others, some of those things can be said.

a cynical question: what exactly is the distinction between these and traditional universities? i mean apart from the way in which profits are used. a non-profit simply plows it into salaries---which accounts in a structural way for the mushrooming in numbers of administrators at unis during the neo-liberal period. and unis can do other things like invest massively in real estate speculation and transform city neighborhoods around them in the process. for example. and it's not like the for-profit/non-profit distinction has prevented students from being understood as consumers across the boards and administrators looking to figure ways to evaluate the "importance" of departments by the numbers of brand-loyal consumers (majors) of the intellectual Product that the department sells. suny-albany (whatever it is called now) is trying to use that logic exactly to vaporize all it's non-english language programs.

of course, these universities would never dream of vaporizing vast chunks of administration when it is administration that is deciding which chucks to vaporize.

second: it seems to me that the problem here really is that university education is not free for all in the united states. that means, like everything else to do with the system of social reproduction, the university system reproduces the class system. it also reproduces an image of mobility. but it imposes debt as a mobility tax, if you like. almost like a penalty for having the presumption to attempt not to stay in your station.

if that's the case, then the solution is perhaps a rethinking of the role of universities and the elimination of tuition altogether...
a gramophone its corrugated trumpet silver handle
spinning dog. such faithfulness it hear

it make you sick.

-kamau brathwaite
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colleges, educational, forprofit, money, resource, valuable, waste

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