By Ruben Bolling
Published 10:07 am Tue, Apr 19, 2011
Published 10:07 am Tue, Apr 19, 2011
I had a student from an on-line for-profit university come ask me for help with his classwork (I’m a professor at a small state university). He was $38,000 in debt (mix of tuition and living expenses) and in the final semester of his Associate’s degree and was not 100% certain that he’d actually signed up for the program he’d meant to as it was a computer programming degree and he was more thinking of doing IT work. He mentioned trying to get a bachelors next. At my university tuition for in-state students is only $2000 per semester, so I advised him that he should consider applying to our program. $38,000 seems like an awful lot to spend for an associate’s degree.
“Thankfully, there are plenty of good jobs and careers you can take that couldn’t care less where your degree came from, or even if you have a degree.”
Um … so how’s about sharing the info on all of these illustrious careers with the one in five working-aged adults currently out of work?
That’s barely even snark — I don’t disagree that college degrees mean less now than ever before (trust me — my wife and I are paying dearly for our four useless pieces of parchment), but wonder what it is you know that no one else seems to. Heck, you might even be able to turn a tidy profit on that kind of information! ;-)
I only type this because, from where I’m sitting, employers are requiring degrees for jobs that don’t need them (e.g., administrative support positions), and choosing to hire those who already have jobs over those who need them. And all while paying anyone without a degree minimum wage whenever possible.
America simply does not have a lot of jobs out there that pay a living wage, but don’t require some sort of continuing education. It’s a shame, and an abhorrent and ultimately unsustainable way to run an economy.
Since these comments have moved on to higher education as a topic, I will share my perspective. I’m a professor at a liberal-arts college.
Unlike a technical or trade school, our College’s mission is to train students to discover themselves, to learn how to learn, discover new ways of thinking, grapple with Biq Questions, and to introduce them to new ideas. High-minded stuff.
I believe this benefits many students, including in many cases making them better employees (and/or, more marketable). I also believe that some students, for various reasons, will not benefit much from (or complete) such a college education.
Laugh at me if you want, but I believe in what I do for a living. Whether it is “worth it” in some economic sense is for The Market to decide. If traditional residential colleges aren’t effective, or lack value for the money, they will die.
I went to a liberal arts college. I think the experience is immensely valuable, and I’m not laughing at you. But that’s not the problem. Here’s the problem:
The cost of college is not only increasing much faster than inflation, it’s increasing much faster than healthcare. From the article:
…whereas medical costs inflated at twice the rate of cost-of-living, college tuition and fees inflated at four times the rate of cost-of-living inflation. Thus, even after controlling for the effects of general inflation, 2008 college tuition and fees posed three times the burden as in 1978.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I agree that college expenses are going up way too fast.
I would caution that the sort of figures shown in that chart are misleading; the so-called “discount rate” is substantial. Essentially this is akin to retailers who jack up the price of an item just before the Big Sale so they can claim that it is “marked down XX percent.” At my institution, every single student gets financial aid, and much of that is “in-house,” in other words pretending the college tuition is “on sale.” For whatever reason, students and families want/expect this arrangement…so, we need to do it to compete. Just silly, really.
Having said that, the cost of college really is going up, and I believe it is truly rising faster than inflation. The best real measure of that is how much debt a student graduates with. Ack.
I like to think I’m pretty smart (remember, college professor). But I don’t understand why cost is rising so. I assure you, my salary has not gone up like that :P
I’m surprised no one has yet pointed to this series produced by PBS – College, Inc. It is an eye-opening exposÃ© of the for-profit college biz.
I worked for seven years following college and then paid for engineering grad school through a combination of savings and income from three part-time university jobs. Once I became a university employee and qualified as a state resident, tuition almost disappeared and I lived on job income alone. I made money the last two years of grad school. No loans, no debt.
That was 20 years ago. The degree was totally worth it, both financially and in quality of life.
Colleges have been a scam and a half for a while now- this is just the latest evolution of that faulty logic. Paying $30-$xxx grand a year for the privilege of being taught how to stop thinking for yourself, so that you can become a productive cog that keeps the economy moving, is insane
It should be free for the qualified of course – and IS in many countries – but if you’ve gone to a school that taught you not to think for yourself you have gone to a bad school. Good schools exist.
I have a Doctorate of Divinity, a Doctorate of Human Letters and a Doctorate of Business Administration from the Humanity Research University of Beverly Hills, California, and all I had to do was stand still long enough for my ex-landlord’s schizophrenic wife to check off the boxes on the sixth-of-a-page, mimeographed diploma. Paying for school is for suckers.
The federal reserve is just handing out trillions to whoever wants it. This is what is so infuriating about the student loan situation in the US. Millions of this generation will be financially crippled by student loans. And when you consider that the cost of housing is 3 – 4 times what their parents paid, and they are also paying large student loan payments every month, there is no way out for these kids. They are well and truly fucked.
Which is why I said, this whole scheme is a roadblock to class mobility. In fact you are going to see lots and lots of middle class kids turn into bona-fide poor people as a result of their education. They are every bit as smart and educated as their upper middle class peers, but those who were fortunate enough to get the rare full scholarship or whose parents had the means to pay for their education, can pretty much write their own ticket. Those who couldn’t, are now debt slaves.
Home ownership? Starting a family? Retirement? Good luck with that.
I went to DeVry University. Looking back, I would not have gone there. It was the best for for my needs at the time. I was able to get a job in public accounting but the vast majority of accounting majors don’t get hired from there. There is an elitism that exists and believe me I feel it when everyone around me says they went to Michigan, U of I, U of C, DePaul, Loyola and I say “DeVry”. I worked very hard to get my degree and with the help of a professor’s recommendation I was able to get into a goof firm. Now I’m working on a Masters in Tax from Northern IL and will most likely get an MBA from Norte Dame. I need to put a lot more distance between me and My bachelor’s degree from Devry. I would counsel anyone thinking about school – where you go DOES matter when the competition is stiff like it is in todays economy.
Gee! if this really happened it would be a disaster.
Imagine all those places turning out graduates with degrees in :
the would would be full of “Qualified” charlatans………..oh shit……
This is not all that funny. There are already a number of dubious degree mills out there (Phoenix anyone?)
Rumor Mill in Ann Arbor
The University Of Michigan is pushing to go private/for profit (This is Gov. Snyder’s wet dream)
The reasoning behind it is two fold:
1. The Univ.administration would not have to report how much they are making (its public now)
2. The Univ. administration could hand out stock from all of the new biotech, tech, medical, pharma, and engineering startups they are funding/supporting (with tax payer money) long before the companies go public and offer IPOs (and they would only pay capital gains when they sell the stock)
That building looks exactly like a strip shopping center on North Coit in Richardson, a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas. Wild. If it is, I’ve been to that pizza place a couple times.
Really? I thought it looked more like the one on Royal and 35.
Or the one in Mesquite.
Or the one at Red Bird….
Absolutely. Just north of Beltline on Coit. On the NE corner.
That’s obviously the one in Denton.
I positive that this strip mall is at the corner of Silverlake & Temple in Los Angeles. The pizza & gyros joint is actually a Pizza Hut/KFC combo & 4-Profit-U is a discount tobacco store.
Saw a TV doc on this only a couple of weeks ago.
The US is an astounding place.
These scumbags not only actively scam students by defraud the government for billions.
Just in case you don’t care about government, well its really just taxpayer money they is being wasted, so they are defrauding everyone that pays taxes also.
As an added bonus unlike normal loans apparently the government loans never get forgiven even in bankruptcy, so the students are screwed for life.
This is a great big huge pyramid scheme.
The students really are screwed for life, and reform there is definitely in order, but student loans are inescapable whether one attends a for-profit university, a community college, a public university, or a school like Harvard. And contrary to conventional wisdom, while many for-profit schools are overpriced, there are some non-profits that cost even more. So while it’s fun to present these sorts of issues as simple and one sided, they’re really not.
after re-reading my post apparently I should go to 4-Profit University and get a degree in English Skillz.
Of course, there’s a flip side to this:
lol @ Pl8o. Arstl better. Scrts <3 hmlck.
My wife is going to this school right now. :(
If only these degree mills were the primary problem right now.
Considering the state of the economy and the employment prospects for new college grads, and their likely pay scale IF they find a job, there is no other way to describe subsidized student loans than “sub-prime”.
But it’s not just these fakey for profit schools that are ripping off the tax payers. Almost every university and college in the country is raising tuition rates every single year, and there is a bona-fide tuition bubble our loan program is feeding into. That and the fact that with the loss of a real manufacturing sector, every kid in K-12 is getting it hammered into their heads that “they HAVE to go to college to be competitive in the global marketplace” and suchlike.
The net result is that more kids are going to college than ever before, the government basically writes blank checks to the schools that the students have to pay back with their future (and probably non-existant) paychecks, and there is no way they can ever get out of this mess.
The whole subsidized loan thing is a massive scam in and of itself, these 4-profit schools are just ancillary scams that have popped up around this big terrible program (like black market food stamp sales and stuff like that).
Before anyone thinks I am supporting cuts to higher education, I don’t. I think we should have a higher ed entitlement program, a REAL one, one that does not put new college grads in the workforce already 6 figures in debt.
…there is no other way to describe subsidized student loans than “sub-prime”.
Except, as opposed to the mortgage loans you obliquely refer to, student loans are not subject to forgiveness under bankruptcy. Students are stuck with those payments, come hell or high-water.
I know it, but you can’t get blood from a stone can you?
There are various tricks you can pull to delay payment for 3 – 5 years . . .deferment, forbearance, etc. And at the end of the day if you don’t make any money, they’ll just keep deferring indefinitely.
But where is all this money coming from? What happens when everyone realizes there is no chance in hell that all of these hundreds of billions will never be paid back? We gonna throw this whole generation of kids, and the next one, and so on, in debtors jail? The government lent this money, who is going to bail it out?
We gonna throw this whole generation of kids … in debtors jail?
That might not be such a far-fetched idea. Some states have been locking people up if they can’t pay off debts. We might be looking workhouses in the near future. Sigh.
What’s the difference if you get a ‘degree’ from this type of ‘institution’ versus lying that you have a degree from this type of ‘institution’? Or saying you attending “Harnocks College” with a degree in “Human Development”?
I’d like the ability to be certified in biology or statistics the same way I can be certified in ASP.NET. Education might become quite a bit cheaper if tuition was decoupled from obtaining proof that you know a subject.
Hilarious, but aw, Ruben – it’s spelt ‘Giro’ when it’s the money transfer type. :(
I go to a non-profit distance-ed school. Its actually quite inexpensive, and decent, but the 4-profit schools give online education a bad name.
I really see online education as a far more efficient way to deliver good educational materials to a huge student body, without the logistics and expense of a traditional university.
Yet that all gets lost in the mad rush to get free government monies and enroll just about anyone… and thats no different in many traditional for and non-profit universities. Just more visible in the online schools.
Almost all of the comments here seem to assume that the value and indeed the sole purpose of a university education is to meet the needs of the job market.
I won’t argue the correlation between income and education.
I will argue that without a fundamentally sound system of public education any democratic system is at risk. I will argue that an education that does not deliver an exposure to and appreciation of the arts is failure. I will argue that if you walk out of a university with little or no curiosity about what you did not learn, the whole enterprise was flawed.
As to those who prospered after the purchase of a degree I would argue that what you bought was the correlation between income and education. What you did not get was the content of an education. Your opinions on what it means to actually have a university education are a lot like my views on being an astronaut: imperfectly informed speculation.
If we had widely accepted certification in all common subjects, we could put together the equivalent of a college education just from Khan Academy and The Gutenberg Project.
The “Four weeks” thing may require some clarification.
I used to work in the Education Lead-Gen business, here’s how the “four weeks” thing works:
– A student enrolls.
– The school gets a cut of federal aid money for each student enrolled.
– If the student stays enrolled for four four weeks the school can keep that money even if the student never attends another class.
Not all for-profit universities are a scam — in my experience the majority were legit.. but the ones that were crooked were as evil as they come. Some, allegedly ( have to say that to protect my ass ), actually pushed students out of school after this four week limit so much that large portions of their course catalog were not even technically available: they had no teachers to teach the advanced parts of the courses since no students ever stayed long enough to get there.
That being said, the “Education Lead Generation” space in general is a huge incestuous cesspit. There are times we would buy leads and essentially “launder” them and effectively sell them back to the same person who sold them to use — and we’d do it for a profit!
There was a federal law change in 2010 that effectively prevented Lead Generation companies from getting paid based on the number of students that eventually enrolled.. the law was supposed to help clamp-down on this “four week” nonsense (among other problems), but it hasn’t worked at all.
The notion that people must be taught to think for themselves, or that college is the best place to learn to do so, seems silly to me. The principal lesson many college students seem to learn is how to feel superior to people who didn’t go to college. Travel has been already been recommended here as a better learning experience for young adults: that’s definitely a nice option for those whose parents can pay for their wandering. I suggest work itself is a better and far more humbling means of education than college, supplemented by independent reading as a hobby.
Turning 18? Get a job, even a crappy job, and move out on your own. It’s harder road than living in the dorms, sure, but it serves a few true and useful lessons about the obvious reality of life (which is that the great majority of us will have to work continually, at jobs we don’t necessarily like, for most of our lives). Humility is a pretty important key to real learning and growth. Before you decide to go to college, take some time to learn what it’s like to be young and poor — not artifically insulated from poverty by the funny money of student loans: learn what a dollar really buys you at the grocery store. Experience being looked down upon by arrogant jerks who’ve been “taught to think for themselves”. Realize what a luxury learning really is and you’ll be more likely to make the most of the educational investment.
I went to university for help learning about math, science, history, and language, and I feel like I got my money’s worth. Students who only go to learn to do a job were frustrating, because they try to pull things away from all those, and as you say would probably learn better by doing a job.
I think you misspelled “University of Phoenix”
Colleges have been a scam and a half for a while now- this is just the latest evolution of that faulty logic. Paying $30-$xxx grand a year for the privilege of being taught how to stop thinking for yourself, so that you can become a productive cog that keeps the economy moving, is insane, though more insane is the amount of humans who believe it’s worth it. Thankfully, there are plenty of good jobs and careers you can take that couldn’t care less where your degree came from, or even if you have a degree. So if you’re going to have to work for “the man” in one form or another, you might as well be $200,000 richer doing so. I have a degree but it is absolutely useless to working in film/tv, which is where I happen to be. I’ll be more than happy to tell my kids they’re better off traveling the world for 4 years and get some REAL education that way.
I don’t know if I’d say “scam”, but I do tend to agree that most colleges don’t care what your career potential is after they graduate you. This is why I don’t donate jack to my university- they are a for-profit institution that makes a ton of money and didn’t seem to prioritize the utility of my degree. I got no financial aid, so I gave them too much money already.
Unfortunately, just knowing a subject won’t give you a path to a career in that field. At least as much as for the education, people go to college to get their Multipass punched. How would we bootstrap a system to replace that? How would we convince the first employers to accept employees who are educated, but have no degree?
I hear you there. I switched majors three times in college before going to a technical trade school. So I’m educated in four fields without a degree and on top of that my real area of expertise is self taught. So, on paper, I can’t get my foot in the door. But once I get a job, I blow past everyone there.
I did a similar thing myself. My degree is in graphic design. I tried majoring in computer science, but bombed out because I didn’t have the proper grounding. Once I graduated, however, I became a web designer, then a web developer. By then, the proper grounding could be Googled.
Which brings up another problem with the college system: It’s only convenient for people who have just graduated from high school and don’t yet have mortgages and dependents.
ugh, now I feel sick.
As a law student, graduating in May, with $200k+ debt, a total shit job market and precisely zero actual skills, I’m very seriously considering fleeing the country because there’s very little chance I’ll ever even be able to keep up with my interest payments, much less the principal.
Why did my teachers, parents, guidance counselors etc. fucking inculcate this total bullshit belief in me and everyone else that MORE education, and FORMAL education are some kind of key to success?
Total bullshit. I’d have been much, much better off had I dropped out at 16 and maybe grabbed a GED after a few weeks of self study.
Don’t blow off higher education as a whole just because you went into one of the most oversaturated fields in the country. Sure, it might not be for everyone, but there are plenty of people who are benefiting from continuing their studies.
Lilah, I’d say at this point the majority of people who attend college pay more than what they receive is worth.
Law is just a particularly terrible example (well, a good example of how terrible education can be) because it’s
a) very, very expensive, and
b) marketed as being very lucrative AND very versatile.
Especially before the economy tanked (i.e. when I began law school), anyone you asked would say “oh, a law degree is great, even if you don’t want to practice law, you can do all kinds of things with that degree!” Now, there are maybe 50% of the available entry level jobs there were in 2007. And, unlike virtually all other debt, I can’t discharge in bankruptcy or in any other fashion.
The federal government will guarantee my debt, of course, but I’ll likely be long gone. Enjoy paying my bill.
Out of curiosity – but with no firm resolution to enroll, I took an interview with one of the leading “for-profit institutions” four years ago, just to see what it was about.
What I experienced there was amazingly similar to the hard-sell one receives at a typical used-car lot. I’m surprised there wasn’t a giant wind-sock puppet out on the corner of the property. Let’s just say I almost ran – not walked – in my haste to get out of there.
Must read about the for-profit school scam:
With more of a guild system. Professionals in your field would determine your fitness to be a member of the guild. It could run sort of in the apprentice, journeyman, master level style. It would lead to more practical and applicable real world skill requirements that employers ACTUALLY need out of their applicants. Professional guilds would be able to make sure that their certified members knew the things and had the experiences that really prepared them for real workplaces.
Students would like it because they wouldn’t have to spend a ton of money paying for classes they already knew the material or could learn the material easily on their own and classes that had incredibly little to do with success in their intended field. Employers would like it because they’d be getting folks that were better qualified for the task at hand. Everybody but the colleges win.
But.. but… For profit private enterprise can do it cheaper and more efficiently! Just like health care!
Mr. Bolling’s take on fly-by-night trade schools is very much appreciated.
I worked for four years as an instructor for a for-profit paralegal program, and got to experience weird moral whiplash every morning when I walked through the door.
On the one hand, I radicalized my students by teaching them how to research the state and federal regulations relating to trade schools and student loans, and I engaged in a constant sort of low-level passive-aggressive warfare against the management. My coworker and I made our students work like dogs on appellate briefs, title research, and evidence notebooks, because we had to work twice as hard to convince employers to take a chance on our charges; we could not have lived with ourselves if we had done anything less than give our students what they deserved, so we built a law library and compressed the basic law school curriculum into a 9-month paralegal program. For our somewhat subversive and unprofitable diligence, we were eventually laid off and the program was ended.
On the other hand, I was still a cog in a disgusting machine.
My students were smart, dedicated people who had gone through the wringer; they had served prison time, had been drug abusers, had lost custody of their children, had turned tricks, had been involuntarily committed, and had bled, wept and burned to make something better of themselves.
They weren’t comparative shoppers, by and large; they were suckers for the hard sell of the school’s “counselors” (i.e., salesmen). They eschewed the (far superior and cheaper) option of community college because they had been through such bad experiences in high school, or because they believed that two years was too long to work for a degree, or because they thought the admission requirements were too burdensome to meet.
They were wonderful people, all of them; even the ones who dropped out, got kicked out, or flunked out. For some, the ridiculously overpriced debt load was at least balanced out by a real job. For too many, the school was just one more abusive con, right up there with the check-cashing loan sharks and the rent-to-own furniture stores. A select few were borne up and out of their past and made whole and happy, not because of the trade school but despite it.
I remember one student coming back to say “hi” not long after finishing the program.
She had tears streaming down her face, and told me that for 25 years she had slung hash at a truck stop, but that now she got to wear business suits and work in a wood-paneled law office, with the trappings of respect and pay that she had never felt was her due.
In retrospect, I had good reason to bond with my students. As a law school graduate, I too had been victimized by a trade school.
Set aside your “Paper Chase” hagiography, and know this: Law schools are trade schools, just like truck-driving schools and cosmetology schools. Law schools are mercenary money-making operations, they are only cloaked in the trappings of academic respectability thanks to the business acumen of the father of modern American legal instruction, Mr. Christopher Columbus Langdell. Mr. Langdell was smart enough to make the following brilliant business deal.
In the 1870s, Harvard University was prestige rich, but cash poor. Meanwhile, Mr. Langdell’s experiment in for-profit instruction in the legal trades was making money hand-over-fist, but seemed dodgy and uncredentialed. What a perfect fit it made to graft Langdell’s trade school to Harvard; everyone was happy.
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