Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The lie of "for profit" schools


I've had more time than I'd like to watch TV lately which also affords me more time to analyze its content. 

For Example, Have you seen the latest Devry university commercial?

It has all the right elements to properly position the "product."  Stirring music played at a subtle volume, young adults happily traversing an idyllic campus setting and a resolute spokesman delivering a somber message. 

"By 2025 there will be 20 million new jobs and not enough graduates to fill them.."  or something like that, forgive me if I paraphrase.  I'm sure of this much, the statistic comes from the United States Department of Labor in a March 2012 publication.

What they fail to mention is who or where these jobs are going to be located.  In spite of the rhetoric, business is still outsourcing most of its technical work overseas or abusing work visas to suppress wages.

Remember, this is Devry which fancies itself as a "University" now.  Perhaps you aren't old enough to remember when they were just a vocational school producing entry level techs to staff the assembly lines of Motorola, Honeywell and the like. 

A great foot in the door but nobody was ever going to give you a seat at the CEO's conference room table over it.  They were no better than schools like ITT Technical Institute or the Ron Bailey School of Broadcasting.  

They claim to be more than that now but they can't hide from their humble beginnings.   

In fact the term "diploma mill" was coined because of these types of schools.  That was because their programs were usually not accredited by the same governing body as traditional universities.  The admission requirements were more relaxed as well so long as you had at least a GED and the ability to pay.

That allowed them flexibility in their curriculums not to mention the ability to commoditize their programs of study but made almost none of the credits transferrable to a regular university program.  Needless to say, nobody ever asked about your SAT scores.   

In the end you had the equivalent of very expensive vocational training and a piece of paper few took seriously.

Were they diploma mills?  That was entirely dependent on the school.  Sadly, you often had little more than a slick advertising campaign to judge them by.  Most fell by the wayside when the promise fell short of the reality and the law suits starting rolling in.

Your education at any of these institutions would likely be financed by government  grants and student loans.  The exact composition of which was of no matter because the loan payments would be excessive no matter what the amount owed.  Especially true when you could expect to spend the first few years of your career pulling down about  as much money as an assistant manager at Mickey D's.

There's no debating the value of a quality education whether it comes from a University or a vocational school. The broadening of your knowledge base will always pay a dividend even if it isn't in the form of a bigger paycheck.  It's about having options and the more you have the better off you'll be.

If it sounds like I'm contradicting myself I'm not.  I'm a strong proponent of education in all its forms.  What I'm not in favor of is the whole concept of a "for profit" school.

Which is why I have a problem with schools like Devry and the University of Phoenix making promises they can't keep. 

Going to a "for-profit" school changes the education dynamic.  Instead of being about imparting knowledge, it's about selling a product and its value diminishes with every shareholder meeting. 

Oh? You didn't realize that Devry was publicly traded corporation?  Their ticker symbol is DV on the NYSE.  They closed at a bit over $31 a share at this writing.  Down a bit since its $60 average a few years ago.  So what does a company do when it's revenue numbers are down?

Sell more product of course!

When your product is education and you're charging a premium price for it your angle better be good.  
The usual sales pitch is the chance for a better job.  Of course they never emphasize that word "chance" unless you can read that tiny type flying by at 60 milliseconds on your TV.
It's all about the "benefits" of their product.

It's no different than a commercial for hot dogs.  I mean does anyone really think about just what part of the beef is in "100% pure beef" hot dogs? 

Of course not, instead they portray family and friends gathered around the perfect suburban backyard relishing in the perfect summer day with perfectly plump weenies sizzling on the grill.

Trouble is, we're talking about people's futures not weenies.

If your motivation is profit you do whatever you can to protect it.  Capitalism has no conscience.

It shows up in the form of overpriced books, obsolete equipment, instructors with questionable qualifications (which is why most are referred to as "facilitators") and an inadequate curriculum.  Don't even get me started on the "Financial Aid" department...

 The result is a graduating student with tens of thousands in debt and an education that doesn't match what their chosen career demands. 

So if we're going to treat education like hot dogs then there should be some recourse when the product doesn't deliver.  After all, if you get sick from a bad batch of hot dogs the least you can expect is a refund.  Try to get a 50K refund for a useless Bachelor's degree, yeah, good luck with that.

Meanwhile, millions of people have been sold a bill of goods with nothing to show for it but a piece of paper and decades of payments  that rival most people's monthly mortgage.  The final injustice, those loans are backed by the U.S. government which means you can't get rid of them even if you go broke.
There's only one fix for all of this...

Get rid of the "for profit" schools unless they guarantee placement equal to their advertising.  If they refuse then they either need to shut down or be forced to change their ways. 

If they complain, remind them that compared to their "product" hot dogs have a better guarantee and that's just bad business.