by David Safier

I write a lot about the potential dangers of the profit motive in K-12 schools, because my teaching experience allows me to understand how pre-college schools operate. I avoid too much discussion of higher ed because I don't know how it works from the inside.

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But a few recent articles make the dangers of bottom-line, for profit education evident, where putting "asses in classes" is more important than the education provided to the students.

First case in point: At University of Phoenix, Allegations of Enrollment Abuses Persist. The article is about high pressure recruiting of students.

After federal regulators accused the University of Phoenix of systematic enrollment abuses in 2004, the school's parent company paid out nearly $10 million to resolve the allegations.

[snip]

In the years since, Phoenix cemented its stature as the nation's largest for-profit school and the single biggest recipient of federal student aid. [emphasis added] But some of the school's recruiters have continued to use high-pressure, deceptive tactics, according to a dozen current and former students and two former recruiters who spoke to ProPublica and Marketplace as part of a joint investigation.

The students said Phoenix counselors misled them about whether credits would transfer to other schools, pretended to befriend them and lied about financial aid. The recruiters said they were told to rope students in with phony claims that classes were filling fast, or by suggesting that federal grants would cover costs, even if that was uncertain.

If U of Phoenix can get students to pay for coursework, it makes money, whether or not the students complete the courses or gain marketable skills. Since most of the students can't afford tuition, they either get federal student aid or private loans, both of which have to be paid back by the student. The private loans often come with very stiff interest rates and penalties.

Another article is titled The Subprime Student Loan Racket. It focuses on schools which, unlike U of Phoenix, often make little attempt at educating their students.

Example:

At the age of forty-three, Martine Leveque . . . decided to pursue a career in nursing, a high-demand field where she could also do some good.

While researching her options online, Leveque stumbled on the Web site for Everest College, part of the Corinthian Colleges chain, which pictured students in lab coats and scrubs probing a replica of a human heart and a string of glowing testimonials from graduates. . . . When Leveque contacted the admissions office, she was told she would receive hands-on training from experienced nurses in state-of-the-art labs with the most modern equipment—including a recently purchased $30,000 mannequin that could simulate the birthing process. She also says recruiters told her that she would be able to do rotations at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, one of the nation’s best hospitals.

She received federal and private loans to the tune of $29,000. Then she started classes.

The instructors had little recent medical experience. Instead of really teaching, she says, they usually just read textbooks aloud in class and sometimes offered students the answers on tests ahead of time. On the rare occasions when Leveque and her class were given time in the lab, she found that the equipment was broken down and shoddy—except for the expensive new mannequin, which no one knew how to use. Instead of the promised rotations at UCLA Medical Center, her clinical training consisted of helping pass out pills at a nursing home.

Bottom line: Leveque left with no skills to speak of and a loan balance that ballooned to $40,000.

My instincts tell me, education should be a non profit enterprise designed to do the most possible good for the students. I'm sure it can be done successfully by a well run for profit corporation, but we need adequate safeguards to make sure the profit is not being made at the educational expense of the students.

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