For-Profit Colleges: The Controversy

I recently spoke with a client of mine who I met when he was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps back in 2003. Days ago, he informed me that he was now attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  While I was proud to know that this young man was now attending a full-fledged university, I was more surprised that he didn’t get caught up in the marketing web to attend an online college. To be sure, he’s an anomaly. Most military members that I met over the past decade were enrolled in “for-profit” colleges. The most notable one that sells themselves hard on military bases: University of Phoenix. Its big business and they push hard for enrollment and the dollars that come with it. What I saw tonight on PBS Hawaii confirmed what I already had sensed. You too can check out this Frontline documentary, “College, Inc.”

It has bothered me for years seeing for-profit colleges and universities take advantage of our Hawaii-based military, simply to get their MGI Bill and all of our tax dollars that fund it (beyond the first $1200 an active duty soldier, sailor or marine puts in during their first year on active duty). Its ridiculous, but true. I saw it with my own eyes: these for-profit schools were hounding service members when they first arrived on base as newbies, signing them up and promising what sounded to be an Ivy League education. The nice part, as they sold it, was that it would be done all online. It sounds appealing for sure. And yes, they say it’s easier and much quicker to get a degree. But once you’re done, are their degrees worth the paper it’s printed on? I can’t say, but I don’t give the degrees too much credence. Sorry, but in my role as a previous HR Director responsible for hiring staff, it is the way I perceive it.

It’s catching up with them. For-profit colleges and universities that cater to non-traditional students are being watched closely for their hard-sell antics.  They are successfully capturing billions of federal financial aid dollars and often simply conferring degrees over the Internet. Now they’re feeling the pressure from federal regulators. In my estimation, it’s for good reason. Educating our future leaders is certainly big business; but it is not only about the nickles and dimes. These for-profit schools have an obligation beyond wall street balance sheets; it is a public trust matter. So far,this trust is being abused by these for-profits in a monstrous way.

Here’s what one critic summed up really well: “The ‘for-profit places’ charge students far more for the classes. The ‘for-profit places’ accept unqualified students, admit students who won’t find employment that will allow them to pay off the student loans. The for-profits direct the students into federal loans, most of which will never be repaid, leaving people in perpetual debt and the taxpayers with billions of dollars they’ll never collect, while some of the investors in for-profits make money on the taxpayers and students backs!”

For those who support (“make money”) for-profit colleges and universities like Jack Welch (former GE CEO/management guru/zillionaire), I ask you this question: Is profits or educating students more important? Why does for-profit colleges market and prey on the military, while top schools or even the community colleges do not? Here’s how one consultant succinctly put it: “It’s not about education; it’s a business. It’s about  the three M’s: Management, marketing and money.” Again, check out this eye-opening Frontline documentary, “College, Inc.”

Finally, let me be perfectly clear: I have no interest and nothing to gain here. But we the general public who are aware of wrongdoing needs to speak up and protect the less informed, especially those who are fighting for our freedom. I just want federal regulators to have the courage to stand up to tough guys like Welch, and keep pressing for the truth. And in the end, for justice to prevail.

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