Friday, May 25, 2012

Publicly Funded For-Profit Colleges

This pisses me off.  University of Phoenix, Strayer University, ITT Tech, DeVry University, Walden University, Kaplan University:  all of them (among many others) are private for-profit institutions of higher education profiting at the taxpayer's expense.  I'm not against the private or the for-profit aspects of these colleges, per se -- these types of institutions can, and often do, fill gaps in the market that the public sector can't -- but the fact that so much of their revenue and profit comes from federal and state governments while delivering little by way of results.  In a nutshell, it works like this:  these colleges recruit the neediest, most vulnerable students possible, overload them with student loans guaranteed by the government, watch them wash-out of the program they enrolled in or (more likely) earn worthless credits/degrees and, as a consequence, default on their loans because a public non-profit university/college won't accept their credits or a prospective employer views the degree as worthless.  The for-profit university gets their take, the student struggles to pay off their tens of thousands in debt (or defaults altogether), and the taxpayer financed most of it.  I have a hard time assigning 100% of the blame to the student in circumstances like these:  the recruitment materials are slick, the admissions officers unscrupulous, and the prospective student just wants an education so they pursue what they think (hope) will deliver what they want.  What galls me is how these institutions have managed to privatize the profits but socialize the debts the students shoulder.  Fortunately, the federal government is well aware of these abuses and they are taking steps to curb the deceitful recruitment strategies and to increase transparency (notify students that credits won't transfer and provide data regarding expected salary and debt following graduation).  

The natural corollary to this diatribe is, of course, how best to address and solve the problem.  I'm obviously a proponent of government oversight and regulation -- I can't remember what article I was reading but the author made some comment about how the government's main tasks should be to "educate, medicate, and incarcerate".  I agree, more or less, since it seems that the alternative -- full privatization -- would result in near-worthless higher-education credits/degrees, an overly-expensive health care system, and corporations with a profit-motivated incentive to jail people.  Capitalism is, of course, a good thing -- the vast riches and wealth our country and citizens have accumulated can be attributed to this economic ideology -- but it should be tempered somewhat.  Especially when it comes to educating our citizens. 

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