Blog: Portrayal of For-profit Students is Misguided and Offensive

By Kevin Kuzma, Editor

The Department of Education in all its research and investigation into for-profits has portrayed itself as a more left-brained organization, more interested in numbers and data than its own intuition or creative thought. So no wonder its picture of for-profit schools and the students attending them is sloppily drawn.

The for-profit schools are money-hungry. The executives who run them are more concerned with the bottom line than they are in providing an education. And to meet that bottom line, they are willing to implement a whole host of nasty tactics to convince people to enroll so the schools can walk away with any federal financial aid funds that come their way with every enrollment.

These are arguments we’ve all heard presented about the for-profit education sector in the news media, in hearings on Capitol Hill, and from the Department of Education in its quest to impose more regulations on the schools. What we haven’t heard is that students who attend for-profit schools are stupid, and yet that’s the one inevitable that’s being quietly championed in the arguments against the practices of for-profit schools. If the schools are putting so many deceptive practices in motion, then someone is stupid enough to fall for them. If the schools are fundamentally flawed, then so are the students.

No one has come out and said this in as many words, but if you look at the critiques, the allegations, and the findings, the portrait of students who attend for-profit schools that’s been created by the naysayers is one of ineptness and stupidity.

While the Obama administration and the Department of Education have singled out for-profit schools for aggressive marketing practices and offering misleading information to students, they have managed to create their own picture of dishonesty and half-truths. The department has faulted the entire for-profit sector with its looming “gainful employment” regulation by leveling accusations at every possible aspect of the student experience. The issues aren’t limited to a single area. There are major issues said to involve recruiting, enrolling, advising, educating and placing students.

The rule will not be applied to more “traditional” colleges and universities as it stands. The same customer protections aren’t necessary there, according to the Department of Education. They’ve focused on for-profit schools themselves and the executives who own them because they distrust profit-driven motives, but their argument also has to consider the students themselves. For the department’s argument to pan out, students at for-profits schools have to be the sappiest, most gullible people who’ve ever wanted to better their lives.

By default, the students who attend for-profit schools have been maligned by the department’s assertions. They’ve been painted in the media as half-wits likely to fall for smoke and mirrors. To come to a similar conclusion, you need only look at what you’re being asked to believe about students who ultimately decide to pursue an education at a career training-oriented college:

  • After being lured by advertisements (that make overstatements about the time in which they can graduate and false job growth prospects,) a potential student contacts a for-profit school for more information.
  • The recruiter feeds the prospect information about the career potential or salary prospects in the career field they want to study. Most of the information isn’t true. In fact, it’s grossly untrue, but the student doesn’t refute what they’re told. Instead, they don’t go back home and continue their research for a more reputable school. They reward the institution that provided them with a mountain of misinformation not with a phone call to the Better Business Bureau, but by enrolling … no questions asked.
  • After some prodding by overzealous recruiters, the students borrow far more loan money than they need to cover their education, an amount that will eventually undermine the salary level they attain in the job market.
  • Once they’ve taken a seat in their first class, the student finds the courses they’ve enrolled in are taught by inept educators with no background in the fields they teach. And, by the way, their classmates (as a recent ABC News report would have you believe) are convicted felons.
  • Given the reportedly high drop-out rate of students attending for-profit schools, the student has to quit sometime (nearly 50 percent of students drop out if you trust a statistic offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, during recent hearings about for-profit schools.) The media would have you believe they eventually withdraw due to one of the criteria I’ve specified above, realizing how much debt they’ve incurred, determining their instructors aren’t the brightest and or they sense they aren’t being taught anything, and so on.
  • A student who is lucky enough to make his or her way through school do so in a timeframe too short to learn much of anything. Then, they are launched out into the employment pool without any skills or real employment prospects. But then they become a graduate, not among the numbers that drop out.

These major events recur in students’ lifecycles according to the department. Common sense, though, would discount this sort of logic because, at one of these various stages, the student would likely wise up and make a different decision – that is – unless that person was a moron. With the growth of the for-profit sector of high education, there would need to be thousands upon thousands of people like this, falling into hole after hole of deception and lies. This is a dark description the department has created and it short-changes a whole class of people.

Students attending for-profit schools are not dim-witted people that the Department of Education need to adopt. They are human beings capable of thinking for themselves, many of whom have also attended other types of higher learning institutions. They are consumers who have the ability to shop for their best options, to avoid a product that would be a bad investment – that would fail to deliver what it promises. They have the capacity to make a decision for themselves.

The department has been criticized by civil rights groups for focusing this rule solely on for-profit schools because it would be discriminatory. Many minority students, they argue, would see their path to a higher education and a better life eliminated. If you take a step back, what led to the philosophy behind this rule is discriminatory, too. Those students who attend for-profit schools – a great majority of which are women and minorities – are not intelligent enough to see what they’re getting into. So says the Department of Education. So says the president. For an administration that touted hope and change and got a nation believing in it, they have surprisingly little faith in the people who need it most.


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