Abolish for-profit universities

For-profit education is deceptive to students and takes money away from public universities.

Trent M. Kays

Higher education is an institution dedicated to the public good. Despite the attacks higher education has received from politicians and businesses alike, education in general should serve and inform our society and culture. Given the capitalistic tendencies of American society, higher education has often been subject to criticisms by those who believe in the market model of education.

Yet, what these critics fail to understand is higher education is not a business. The concept of running a university like a business in the same way youâÄôd run, for example, a retail chain is ludicrous. Businesses are often only concerned with the accumulation of monetary wealth and profit.

But, higher education as an institution is not and should never be concerned with such capitalistic notions of monetary value and existence. Higher education has been and continues to be funded by U.S. taxpayers, and a majority of universities were originally founded to serve their communities. As a result, higher education has become a pillar of our society, and as such, it is dedicated to the advancement and betterment of the public good.

Nevertheless, there are some colleges and universities that exist in order to profit from students. Whenever discussing higher education, I almost never include for-profit institutions. I exclude them because for-profits exist solely to make money. The cursory and limited instruction students receive while at for-profit universities is only a side effect. Yet students continue to flock to for-profit universities every year, many of them adult returning students or students who work full-time jobs, and every year they are done a disservice by these universities.

Concerning for-profits, the argument that different educational settings work for different people is ridiculous. Many proponents of for-profits hurl this argument at people who oppose these universities, yet they often provide little or no evidence to suggest students actually benefit more from for-profit universities as opposed to public universities. Moreover, the suggestion that for-profit universities provide more students with an opportunity to work on their education via online environments has no merit. The prevalence of online programs at public universities, like the University of Minnesota, is only increasing.

The loan burden placed on for-profit university students is even greater than that placed on public university students. According to a 2010 Pew Research Report, roughly 25 percent of students at for-profit universities had to borrow $40,000 or more to pay for their bachelorâÄôs degree compared to only 5 percent of students at public universities. This is an unacceptable number, yet many never see this statistic and go to for-profit colleges anyway.

College is expensive enough, and it is reckless and terrible that some colleges force students to have to take out almost eight times as much loan money in order to pay for a less than mediocre education. In addition, for-profit universities are notorious for not offering the education they advertise. As a result, these students find themselves in tremendous debt, with little new knowledge or understanding to help them advance their careers, and often unable to find successful employment. According to the New America Foundation, some for-profit universities exaggerate and falsify job placement figures in order to meet the federally mandated minimum graduate job placement of 70 percent.

The falsification of statistics by for-profit universities prompted Congress to convene an investigation, which is ongoing. Yet the allure of for-profit colleges continues through the propagandistic television commercials said universities create. These commercials create a sense that starting college or going back to college is an easy endeavor, and for-profit universities can help you do it. What those commercials fail to acknowledge is that by going back to college via a for-profit university, students are entering a challenging, ever-changing and perverted debt-inducing environment where they essentially are just buying their degree. But if the commercial says itâÄôs easy, then it must be, right? The reality is far from the picturesque ease the commercial suggests.

The most bothersome aspect of for-profit universities is that they take money away from public universities. According to a recent report, many for-profits receive close to 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources via Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and other federally funded scholarships. In the end, those students who used federal money to help pay for their education will pay more and receive less than those who go to public universities. For-profit universities are in the business to make money, while public universitiesâÄô sole charge is to educate and better the society they serve.

If higher education is a public good, then for-profits are the cancer on it. Instead of educators leading an institution aimed at bettering the lives of students and society, you have business people whose only concern is to make a profit. They live and work to ensure that the shareholders of whatever company owns their for-profit universities have a good bottom line. They use students to turn a profit, yet they compensate said students with almost nothing. For-profits deny students knowledge and skills that will enable said students to succeed in their chosen career path.

For-profit universities should be abolished in order to return some of the integrity of the public good back to those with a vested interest in it: our society, culture and future generations. We should not let the market model of education destroy the critical role of higher education in society.


Trent Kays welcomes comments at [email protected]