For-Profit Colleges Are for Profit ... And Nothing Else

For-Profit Colleges Are for Profit ... And Nothing Else

What exactly qualifies a person as a traitor? Would publishing a disapproving and highly critical op-ed about his company in a major newspaper do it? Because while reading the recently published critique of for-profit colleges from a professor who teaches at one, we can’t help but feel a little shifty, a little anxious. Isn’t institutional loyalty first and foremost in his job (and his contract)?

The Students Aren’t The Ones Who Profit

At the same time, Jeremy Dehn’s New York Times account of the sketchy ethics and business-first, students-second model of the for-profit college is especially illuminating because of his own position as an adjunct professor. Here’s the gist: For-profit colleges are quite unabashedly for-profit. They’re primarily about the money, not the education, and they operate as such. This isn’t exactly news—their critics bristle at their tendency to rope in students, then let them exit the program (either through failure or graduation) with thousands of dollars in debt and no immediate way to begin paying it.

Money Goes In, But Doesn’t Come Out

Dehn is in the interesting position of teaching at both nonprofit and for-profit schools, and illustrates the difference in his account with a thought on his orientations at each school:

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.

He calls it “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.” This is because for-profit colleges receive a disproportionate amount of federal education loans, and are more expensive than state schools. Also, students at for-profit schools are twice as likely to default their loans as public school students. For-profit schools pay their (often under-qualified) teachers less and have them work more. A for-profit college creates a flood of money into the school that instead of producing a financially secure, educated workforce, pools in the institution.

Who Will Help Our Students?

Dehn’s description, though enlightening, is terribly disheartening. Many people are building on their previous education in order to compete more effectively in a cutthroat job market, and their faith in these institutions appears to be quite solidly misplaced. Debt is a crippling, all-consuming state, and to create a group of young people who enter the workforce in a default state of debt feels more like a nefarious plan hatched by a super-villain than an actual part of the American education system. And if this is indeed a story of earnest adventurers being waylaid by debt, thank goodness for their secret weapon—the disenchanted professor.

Tell us in the comments: Do for-profit colleges have any redeeming qualities, or should they be shut down completely?

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