Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Mailbag: 'Are All Colleges For-Profit On Some Level?'


    For-profit universities now pay to place their names on professional sports venues, like the stadium where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play.

    After entering the crosshairs of Congress last month, for-profit colleges entered many of our commenters’ crosshairs last week.

    Reacting to our post about a GAO report that targeted for-profit higher education institutions, commenter “Alex” framed the debate this way:

    This is really about a “sub-prime college degree”. It is the same business model sub-prime mortgage providers like Countrywide or the “payday loan” business that charges higher interest than a loan shark. It targets the most vulnerable people in society. Selling something that they can’t really afford and pushing a loan that they probably can’t repay. The for-profit college industry might as well be called the sub-prime student loan racket.

    “CherriB” came to the aid of her for-profit university. She says she’s earning a PhD online at Walden University after earning her BA from Mount Holyoke College in 2001:

    I work as rigorously as I did at Mount Holyoke… I am earning online because I like the freedom of choice. All of my professors in this program have required a very high standard of skills from students. Having written this, perhaps because of my Mount Holyoke background I demand more of myself and the instructors than a student who earned all degrees online, perhaps.

    “Cheryl” says she’s a former for-profit university employee “for a brief period.” She says she’s not proud of that:

    The admissions department included “counselors” who were pressured to produce a minimum number of new enrollees every month. Counselors worked the phone from leads culled through online inquiries and the numbers you may have noticed in TV and radio commercials. It’s all about sales. It’s all about selling the dream using very misleading techniques and half-truths. It’s not about education… For-profit colleges and would-be universities should be the last option for anyone who yearns for education and professional career opportunities.

    Commenter “Mac” tries to offer a broader view:

    They are ALL “for-profit” colleges! The difference is that while the University of Phoenix pays taxes on its profits, Harvard ($27B endowment a few years ago) does not. The “non-profits” distribute THEIR earnings via new departments (“Gender Studies”), ever-lighter work-loads, lavishly-compensated administrative positions and rich retirement packages. The “for-profits” distribute earnings via dividends to shareholders. Both make out like bandits, both screw the miserably indebted students — but, at least, one of the two types contributes to society by paying taxes!

    Do you think Mac has a point here? Aren’t all colleges and universities on some level about making money, whether or not we label them “profits”? Or are for-profits indeed too devoted to their ‘bottom lines’?

    And are we “over-confusing” online education with for-profit education?

    Keep sharing your thoughts in our comments section.


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