Monday, October 11, 2010

A story on for profit colleges in The New York Times.

I've done some teaching at for profit colleges. That industry is now in the news because Congress is investigating it. I didn't teach at either of these schools for very long and I would have to think long and hard about going back to a for profit school. The pay isn't as good for the instructors and the students are charged much more for an hour of instruction than they are at community colleges. This link to an op-ed column in The New York Times by Jeremy Dehn from Denver, sent to me by my friend Ken Rose. Many of Dehn's experiences are similar to mine and he has seen some things I didn't see and investigated the industry more deeply than I have.

The most telling numbers are that for profit schools have 12% of all students in post-secondary education and those students account for 23% of all the student loans. They are also twice as likely to default on those loans. Admissions policies are as lax as they are at community colleges, but failing at one of these schools is a much more expensive proposition, leaving students with a lot of debt and nothing to show for it.

The part of the equation I wasn't aware of was who invests in the for profit education industry. Dehn brings up that his school, the Art Institute of Colorado, is one third owned by Goldman Sachs. The people with the most skill at gaming the financial systems realize that there are ample methods to milk money away from the government in the form of student loans and into the pockets of Big Finance, spending a short time in the hands of overcharged consumers who will be liable for picking up the tab should anything not go as planned.

I have an in-law I deeply dislike who decided to see if he could convert some of us to the glories of the free market over Thanksgiving dinner a few years back. He told me that private industry could do a much better job of educating people than the state schools currently do, and that I would be a happier and more productive worker in such a system. He was disappointed that my life experience was more convincing than his belief in a libertarian paradise where the profit motive would reward all conscientious workers and only punish the lazy and dishonest.

He doesn't show up to Thanksgiving any more. It's a much more pleasant holiday now.


sfmike said...

I hate having to put up with right-wing in-laws for Thanksgiving too. My family has been pockmarked with them for decades, so I usually avoid family Thanksgivings if at all possible.

Another scam of the for-profit school industry is back-to-work disability money from the state which was originally set up as a welfare-to-work program, always a favorite of Republicans, but which now is essentially a slush fund for profitable colleges teaching people totally unsuitable skills for nonexistent professions. (How many artists actually make a living at it in the United States, for instance?)

steve said...

A friend works at an animation studio. Apparently they are flooded with applications from people who have gone through degree programs at for-profit schools, but the quality is so low they give the applicants a screening test so as to not waste the time of an interview. Something like 2% get jobs and all have paid $50k plus for the paper on their wall.

Another friend is re-tooling her life and is currently going into deep debt at one of the AI schools. They paint an absurdly unrealistic picture of the potential job market. Sadly the students want to believe.

Matty Boy said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. You make good points about spending large amounts of money chasing very rare jobs. At least some of the schools teach skills for jobs that do exist, like nurse or mechanic. Even in those cases, the level of debt people get into to get a good paying job is worrisome.