For the most
part, I’ve been referencing public institutions in my discussions, because
those are the ones I’m most intimately familiar with. One might think such
institutions have an advantage here—public institutions aren’t just trying to
make a buck, so perhaps they’re in it to provide an education, and it’s just an
illusion that administration seems to be plundering all the student loan loot.
Do private institutions do any better?
America is still
mostly a capitalist country, and with the huge demand by students, and the huge
money offered by government sitting on the table, it’s only natural that new
private institutions would form, and established private institutions would
grow, to soak up all that money. It’s reasonable to suspect that these
institutions, without burdensome government regulation, would form and grow
more quickly than public institutions. Indeed, they have done so, with
enrollment at for-profit institutions more than quadrupling over the last
decade…that’s some serious growth1. Much like with the public
institutions the rules are the same: students take out loans, guaranteed by the
government against the slight chance that the student will get an education
that can be monetized well enough to pay the inflated tuition costs, and the
institution gets that money regardless of student outcome.
institutions naturally aren’t funded directly with government funds, and thus
the vast bulk of their revenue, those institutions that focus on teaching, must
come from tuition money (no chance of floating a public bond to construct a new
campus!). In reading the literature, it’s interesting how often for-profit
institutions are criticized for getting the bulk of their income from student
loan money…even as every public institution constantly grubs to get this same
money. The only difference is private institutions have no public till to loot
in addition to the student loan money; they’re forced to get by just on what students
are able to “pay.”
Past this point,
there’s a sharp division between “private, non-profit” and “private, for
profit” institutions. Private, non-profit institutions have significantly
higher graduation rates and spending on instruction over public institutions.
Surprisingly for those that believe the most in capitalism, the for-profit
institutions are generally worse than non-profit, with about half the
graduation rate and 2/3rds the relative spending on instruction2.
(A few seconds while a computer
transfers me to a salesman, after determining a human being answered the
Phone: “Hello, this is Raul. This is
a recorded line. I see that you are interested in higher education. Let me
recommend a college to you…”
--Upon making it known that I wished
to enroll in a graduate degree program, I received one or two calls like this
every day for weeks.
institutions are criticized for low graduation rates, but this is backwards thinking.
These institutions even more aggressively target anyone who can apply for a
student loan, and these are often not the best students, probably not the ones
most likely to graduate from a program.
Around 30% of operating costs of private institutions goes towards
marketing to get new students, far above other types of institutions. Instead
of being praised for not giving away degrees to everyone, the low graduation
rates are taken as evidence of inferiority. In light of the obvious difficulty
in actually getting a degree from a for-profit institution, shouldn’t such
degrees be held in higher regard? Employers certainly think not, but one
wonders if these for-profit institutions had 100% graduation, if they would be
criticized for that, also, or would other institutions be pressured to increase
their graduation rate to match? I suspect the latter. As a reminder, these
institutions are just as legitimately accredited as public institutions.
…An investigator posing
as a student in a class on learning strategies consistently submitted
inadequate work, such as photos of celebrities and political figures for a
written exam that required detailed answers. The student, however, received a
passing grade of C- in the class…In one case an instructor appeared to show a
student how to cheat on a multiple-choice quiz, noting that the same test, with
the same answers, could be retaken. “It’s not hard to get a 100 percent on the
second try,” the instructor said, “just jot down the correct answers and take
the quiz again.”
--some findings of a GAO
secret investigation of accredited, for-profit, colleges. It’s a shame the
Federal government doesn’t take such an interest in what’s going on at public
institutions3. How is there a class on “learning strategies”,
anyway? Passing grades for courses where the student does basically nothing and
a multiple choice quiz that you can just keep retaking until you get it right?
I’m shocked, shocked that such things happen at for-profit institutions. Such
would never happen at a public institu…oh, wait, nevermind, I’ve seen the same
in public, non-profit institutions as well.
With much less
spending on instruction, for-profits clearly don’t spend their money on
faculty, and are motivated to keep other expenses low as well. They’ve
determined that the big money is simply in grabbing students in the first
place, and so their tuition money goes into recruitment.
With less of a
profit motive, the private non-profits are not nearly as eager to sweep up all
possible students, and often have restrictions on admission to go with their
higher tuition, probably why they have better graduation. Overall, faculty
growth has been slightly higher than administrative growth at private
growth in the student base, institutions of all sorts seem to constantly face
budget issues, or at least to claim to have such issues. Curiously,
administrators feel that the most obvious response to budget issues is to
increase the teaching loads5—despite the relatively stable student
to faculty ratios that were sufficient years ago, before the administrative
bloat (caught in their own web with that!). Ideas such as not having such a
heavy reliance on support staff, reducing the number of administrators, and/or
bringing administrative pay in line with administrative responsibility are not
on the table. Go figure, again.
“George Warshington was the furst
presdent of the United States. He wun the revolutionary war against British and
disgnied the flag…”
--Sample from an alleged student
paper when I interviewed for a position with University of Phoenix. I and the
other applicants were encouraged not to fail this level of work. Failing a
student requires faculty to fill out a form justifying the failure, rather
subtle pressure not to fail students.
I’ve never taught
at a for-profit institution, so I have no direct observations of my own to add
here beyond my experience above. While one can cast scorn on for-profit private
institutions for their low graduation rates, it’s actually illustrative of the
difference between these institutions and the public institutions. In
for-profit, it’s all about the check. With no government bureaucracy to answer
to, for-profit institutions don’t need to try to inflate their graduation rates
to look good…they just need to gather and keep those students, with graduation
actually counter-productive to that goal. On the other hand, low graduation
rates are a slur against public institutions, and thus administration is
motivated to increase it.
education is not a high priority.
graduation and instructional spending results at for-profit institutions might
lead one to conclude that for-profit institutions should be avoided, and that
might be the case, but this conclusion is tangential to education.
Nevertheless, it’s clear for-profit institutions are a bit of a land mine for
the student when it comes to getting an education, at least if an education is
all about getting a degree. Considering that degrees from many for-profit
institutions are held in such low regard, it seems going there is a lose-lose
proposition. These institutions are justified in spending so much money in
marketing, as it must be challenging finding students foolish or desperate
enough to go to such places.
Me: “Ok, suppose we know the chance
of tossing a single head on one coin toss is 0.5. What would be the chance of
getting a single head on 10 coin tosses?”
Student, with confidence: “The chance
would be 5!”
Me: “5, you say. Are you sure the
probability will be 5?
Me: “How do you get that number?”
Student: “You just multiply the
chance by 10.”
--exchange in an Open University
statistics course at top tier school I taught at.
When I taught at
a top school (a non-profit), I presented courses both for the “usual” students
(the ones with admission requirements) during the day and for “Open University”
students (the ones for anyone that can get a check)—the latter are generally
night classes, filled with people willing to pay to get a piece of “good
school” reputation on their transcript. According to the catalogue, I was
teaching the same course to both, although my open university course had less
content and far less challenging material (and more student complaints, despite
that). While to the school’s credit, I wasn’t pressured to pass students, I
still had little choice but to simplify the course, as the students were so
inadequately prepared for the “second year statistics” course I gave during the
day that had I not reduced content, I would have lost almost the entire class.
recruiting policies at for-profit institutions lead to lower graduation rates,
and those institutions have very little prestige. Public and non-profit
institutions should probably be grateful to for-profit institutions for keeping
their graduation rates down. It may do little for their prestige, but it does
preserve the value of the degrees they, and other types of institutions, give.
But what of the
degrees billowing out of other types of institutions? When a non-profit plays
the “Open University” game with their prestige, they’re literally cashing in
the prestige for more tuition revenue, and it’s hardly any better at public
“Our goal is to graduate more
students than ever before!”
--Administrator at commencement
address I attended, discussing plans for improved education in future years.
The huge influx
of students into colleges, paid for by government backed loans, might very well
lead to more people with college degrees. It certainly leads to more people in
debt and more money for administrators. Unfortunately, these degrees are
cheapened and almost meaningless…even as the loans increase year after year
from the rising tuition costs.
It’s strange how
institutions can assert the value of a degree as justification for charging so
much for it, even as they expand the number of degree programs to the point
that it devalues the degrees and even the institution. Should there be loans
for programs offering four year degrees in Dance? Women’s Studies? Golf
Management? Queer Musicology? I could list more questionable academic degrees,
but it’s clear these sorts of programs are more about padding the graduation
numbers than advanced study. Do none of the bright and very educated people
that run our institutions see a problem with this? Money poured into such
“fields” is money that’s being taken away from actual education and learning,
the education other people are also being loaned money to receive. It’s often
described as some sort of national priority to have more college graduates, but
it seems doubtful that America will be improved if we issue 300,000,000 degrees
in Queer Musicology (for those that are curious, this is a degree investigating
the musical preferences of practicing homosexuals…I can’t
make this stuff up).
To summarize, we
have non-profit schools giving openly bogus degrees in great quantity, because
administrators only want graduates, and education is not an issue. For-profit
schools don’t hand out degrees, because they only want the money, and education
is not an issue. Neither let educators anywhere near the decision making
process. Would that make a difference?
Think about it.
Charles. “For-Profit Education: Milking Students and the Taxpayers for
Corporate Profits.” Truthout. May 2012.
Paul. “GAO Takes Another Crack.” Inside
Higher Ed. November 23, 2011.
“The Condition of College & Career