For-profit education is a relatively new phenomenon in American education. For decades, higher education has come under the purview of the government and private non-profits. Even today, most "elite" educational institutions are dominated by liberals who pride themselves on the exclusivity of their programs and their high applicant-rejection rate.
So it's no wonder that as the economy began to dip in the late 2000s, more and more blue- and white-collar workers who found themselves out of work wound up turning to education as a source of self-improvement and, hopefully, financial betterment. Many of these new, non-traditional students had already experienced the painful rejection of mainstream "traditional" colleges and universities during their senior years in high-school and were not eager to undergo the experience a second time. So, when they saw ads from schools like the DeVry University, University of Phoenix or ITT Technical Institute, who welcomed them with open arms for the right price, they pounced on the opportunity.
Proprietary education -- or for-profit education, as it is more widely known -- has become a multi-billion dollar industry thanks, in large part, to a stagnating economy and the highly-restrictive entry policies set by America's traditional institutions of higher learning.
In most cases, the degrees awarded from these schools are every bit as appreciable as degrees from traditional colleges or universities. The instructors are just as qualified to teach as they are at private and government-run institutions, and the students graduating from these proprietary schools are leaving with the same set of educational tools as graduates of traditional colleges and universities. Certainly, a bachelor's degree from University of Phoenix doesn't carry the same weight as a bachelor's degree from Harvard, but it is still an accredited degree, which makes it every bit as meaningful. When a prospective employer requires a bachelor's degree from potential candidates to be considered for a job, a bachelor's degree from University of Phoenix will fit the bill nicely.
A brief search of the Internet illustrates just how pervasive the attack on proprietary education has become. Since the actual education the students at these for-profit schools are receiving is every bit as good as the education students receive from traditional schools, detractors of proprietary education have set their sights on the "results" of the education and its cost. Most of the articles, and "investigative" reports focus on what the reporter sees as a "deceptive" recruitment process and/or the overall "cost to the taxpayer". Others imply that since applicants aren’t selected based on educational competency, they’re viewed as nothing more than vessels to bring in federal education subsidies.
Take a recent ABC report on the recruitment process at the University of Phoenix. The headline, of course, is that the recruiter lied about job possibilities to an undercover reporter. We also learn by watching the video that students are encouraged to borrow the maximum amount of money to pay for their education. Since these loans are disbursed just like any other student loan for any other college or university, this practice is bad (even though the recruiter also encourages the undercover reporter to "send back" money that is left over after their tuition is paid).
About the only thing wrong with this picture is the "guarantee" the recruiter uses to convince the undercover reporter to become a student at the University of Phoenix. In this case, she says that, after receiving a bachelor's degree from the school, the undercover reporter will be able to get a job teaching in another state. Although this "lie" is indeed untrue, it seems highly doubtful that a student would base their entire educational decision on the word of a recruiter. Although ABC found a student who did exactly that, most students are wise enough to explore the individual state requirements for teaching before enrolling anywhere.
Although the reporter expresses shock and dismay that the recruiter would encourage borrowing the maximum amount of money from the government (yet conveniently seems to forget that she encouraged him to send back any extra money), he might be very interested to know that this is practice encouraged throughout the educational industry. Every year, financial aid officers in most post-secondary education institutions (including traditional colleges and universities) encourage prospective students to borrow as much money as they can. Although his level of outrage is clearly defined, the ABC reporter never asks why the student should borrow all that money. Financial aid officers will tell you: besides the cost of tuition, higher education carries with it other costs such as books and school supplies, and in the case of full-time students, living expenses. With so many people out of work and unable to receive unemployment compensation, a full-time education occupies time that would have otherwise been spent trying to locate work. In some cases, it's simply impossible to handle a full course load and work a full-time job. Meanwhile, some professors require their students to buy anywhere from four to 15 books per course, meaning that an average 12-credit semester (four classes) could require the student to buy as many as 16 to 60 books.
The other knock on proprietaries is that they "over-promise and under-deliver." This means that proprietary school recruiters will hype their classes and degrees as the necessary items to land a high-paying or middle-class job, but the actual prospects once the graduate hits the job market can be very different.
Is this really deceptive, though?
College recruiters have existed long before the for-profit education industry began to emerge, and even in the days of yore college recruiters would hype their school's academic program and tell students that their job prospects will be better with a post-secondary education degree. The whole job of a recruiter is to recruit. There will always be those who go too far or are overzealous in their approach, but to somehow imply that emphasizing the merits of their school or expressing loyalty toward one's employer or alma matter is deceptive? That's actually rather deceptive in its own right.