For the past year and half, Senator Tom Harkin and the United States Senate
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has taken a hard look at the practices of For-Profit Colleges and Universities.
Along with the investigation of the business practices of these corporations, Attorneys General in states all around this country have begun to look into the same business practices within their respective states.
As reported by Danny Weil, reporter for Truthout, on February 2, 2012, one of the Country’s largest unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sponsored a webinar titled “Good for Wall Street – Bad for Students”.
The purpose of this webinar was to study and discuss the growing problems associated with for-profits.
The webinar attracted a diverse group of speakers which included several former employees of EDMC (Education Management Corporation), the second largest of the for-profits, behind only Apollo Group (which owns the University of Phoenix).
The webinar opened with the panel first defining the differences which exist between public higher education institutions, non-profit higher Ed institutions, and for-profit higher Ed institutions, and then proving a historical background of how federal law changes set the stage for the creation and growth of for-profits.
Despite the creation of for-profit institutions, it wasn’t until Ron Paige, President Bush’s Education Secretary, that many of the regulations which restricted certain business practices of the for-profits were removed and for-profit institutions began their tremendous growth.
One of the most compelling of the speakers was Kathleen Bittel, former EDMC recruiter and career service employee.
Ms. Bittel detailed the “sales pitches” and sales tactics and techniques that she was instructed to employ in attempting to enroll students.
Former EDMC instructor Jeremy Dehn discussed the inner workings of the educational institutions, noting that none of the faculty were tenured and often taught more classes than would be traditionally taught by a professor in a state college or university.
Professor Dehn also spoke about a “corporate culture” at for-profits, a culture which emphasized attendance rather than instruction. While it was the job of the recruiter to get the “asses in the classes”, it was the job of the teacher to keep the “meat in the seat”. If a student dropped out too soon, the for-profit would lose the federal funds associated with that student.
Dehn also noted that in order to keep costs down, curriculum was standardized, meaning that teachers were instructed to teach only what was on paper. Their input was not required or requested.
Kevin Kinser, associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies at SUNY-Albany talked about how many of the “adjunct” utilized by for-profits never had learned HOW to teach and were simply technicians in their field or occupation. These adjuncts had no commitment to either the school or students, as many were simply “moonlighting”.
Jose Cruz, Vice President for Higher Education Policy and Practice and the Education Trust discussed the difference in cost between public and non-profit institutions and for-profit institutions, noting that the cost of an undergrad degree at for-profits ranged from $35,000 to more than $80,000. He also noted that non-profits and public colleges and universities spend upwards of 35 times more money on instruction than for-profits.
Graduation rates were also discussed, with many of the panelists describing how rates were manipulated, and how for-profits would change their attendance policy so as to make it more difficult for students to drop classes, thereby resulting in the student being charged in full for the class and continuing to be listed as enrolled.
Mike DiGiacomo, a former student at EDMC’s New England Institute of Art told his story of how his attempts to drop classes were thwarted by school policy. He also stated that most students had no idea about the amount of debt they would incur nor did they understand the obligations that came with the debt.
The question of how and if credits earned at the for-profits could transfer was also raised during this webinar.
While no solutions came from this webinar, it is critical that discussions, like what occurred at this webinar, continue to occur and litigation, if necessary, also occur until such time as the for-profit college and university industry is cleaned up.