Education for Profit
Sometimes I must remember to keep my mouth shut.
I do. But sometimes you don’t know until you get into the middle of a conversation where it’s headed and by then it was too late.
It began innocuously with a simple question, “Where will you be going to school this fall?
Montez smiled at me, happy to tell me what college he was going to attend. He told me the name of the school but I didn’t recognize it.
“What school is that?” I asked thinking I didn’t hear the name right because it wasn’t a familiar one. We looked the school up and it was a local school, established just a few years ago. Price tag: 30,000. Montez’s intended major: art.
Montez also planned to live “on campus”; but the campus wasn’t traditional. The college owned an apartment building and those who wanted to live there could apply for one. Of course they would have to supply their own food. Additional price for the apartment: 10,000. We didn’t compute a food allowance.
“Did you get a scholarship?” I asked.
“I got my FAFSA,” he said.
We embark on a protracted conversation about how a FAFSA doesn’t award you money but tells you how much you will be getting from Pell and whatever state grants that are offered. It also estimates how much you will take out in college loans.
It was right about then I noticed the look on his face begin to change. What started off as a light and airy conversation now had him shuffling side to side and tightening his smile.
It also didn’t help that my coworker Mary was listening in on the conversation and because she kept jumping in. Together, all three of us added up the cost of tuition: 80,000 for two years to obtain an associate degree. We went to the Occupational Outlook Handbook and researched his intended career: starting pay was less than 40,000 a year.
“You don’t have to go there,” I said. “There are other schools in the vicinity, there’s an Art School just around the corner from where we are now.”
Montez began swaying, mumbling that his mother was a retired police officer and they didn’t care about the cost of the money. Besides he had already paid out 150 dollars for a college application fee.
“What the ffffff..!” I stopped myself before finishing the statement. We were both getting upset by then, me with the school and him –ok, he was getting upset with me for pointing it all out.
Because we are desperate to do research (hardly anyone asks us anymore) Mary had already had the tuition for a top tier ivy league college on her computer, showing him that the amount of money he was willing to pay for a two years associate degree could pay to attend a four year out of state school for the same amount. Or a second tier private institution. We then looked up his intended major at local community colleges that he could attend for less money, showing him that he could get a similar degree for about a fourth of the price.
By then Montez’s smile was gone. His eyes were sad and his body was stiff. We broke him. He got quiet and walked to the other side of the desk.
I turned to his friend Lawrence. “Tell him we were wrong and he should go to this school. Tell him we are sorry.”
“No,” Lawrence said. “He’s my friend and he should hear this.”
I don’t think Montez was feeling the same way.
With more and more people attending for-profit colleges, consumers need to remember caveat emptor.
I know. It’s not often that people think of themselves as consumers when it comes to education but that is exactly what we are. Unfortunately, as with other retail businesses there is no recourse if the education purchased is sub par or an ill-fit (no returns) but that is a discussion for another post. In today’s world the paradigm has shifted. Years ago, before the rise of public education, grammar school as well as higher, was mostly obtained by the upper class; the lower classes were trying to maintain a life by, ahem, working. So then, education was to learn how to think and to become more well-rounded; not necessarily to obtain jobs. There were apprenticeships for many occupations. But for today education is the means to an end. People go to college not because they are dying to read The Canterbury Tales or want to know more about electromagnetism. People who are lower and middle class attend school to improve their lot in life. You wouldn’t buy a car for 35,000 that may or may not start from day-to-day, so why should we purchase an education that may or may not get us a job?
According to an article from Colorlines Magazine from Sept 2012, black and Hispanic students are choosing for profit schools over traditional schools for myriad reasons, but also because they are actively recruiting them.
The University of Phoenix opened its doors just under 50 years ago in 1976, but today it’s the largest institution of higher education in the nation. And despite federal regulations which have dampened enrollment numbers in the last year, it remains the top producer of African-American and combined student of color baccalaureates in the nation. In the 2010-2011 school year 5,393 students of color received college degrees from just the online division of the University of Phoenix, and 3,124 of those went to black students, according to a report by Victor Borden for “Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.”
The second top producer of black baccalaureates for the 2010-2011 year was a for-profit university too—Ashford University graduated 2,124 African Americans in the same year, an increase of 84 percent since just the previous year. Those sorts of staggering gains for students of color in the for-profit industry have become the new normal in the world of higher education. In fact, when it comes to the four-year for-profit industry, black students have formed the backbone of the industry’s growth. Between just 2004 and 2010, black enrollment in four-year for-profit schools jumped a whopping 264 percent, at a rate which dwarfs black students’ 24 percent growth in enrollment in four-year public colleges during the same time period.
Are For-Profit Colleges the Answer for Black Students? Monday, September 10 2012
As illustrated in my narrative up above, sometimes for profit colleges can run higher than traditional colleges. In February, the Federal Government came out with a Score Card so you can shop and compare colleges. They are still working out the potential earnings of graduates and, as NYT pointed out, the Score Card doesn’t take into consideration the financial aid package expensive colleges offer students to help fray the cost.
There is also the issue that students who attend for profit colleges are more likely to default on school loans than students at public and private institutions.
Thanks to Huffington Post for the graph.
So, in laying out that for profit schools might not be the best bang for the buck it is still up to each student to decide that a for profit school is for them. The best thing about for profit schools is that it has helped to change the landscape of higher education by bringing in a lot of online classes, catering to students who are considered “non-traditional” (older students/working adults), and focusing more on the curriculum needed for graduation instead of getting people to take what many consider superfluous courses.
It’s been nearly a year since I saddened Montez with my inquisitiveness and I haven’t seen him, although I have heard that he is enjoying his Freshman year of school. I just hope that when he graduates it’s all that he hoped for and more because if not, then don’t we all pay the price?
Next time we will look at summer learning. What will your kids be doing under the sun?