Promises of higher wages and increased opportunity through a pricey education at a for-profit college are uttered more frequently on daytime television than the words "You are the father" escape Maury Povich's lips.
The sales pitches utilized by the for-profit college industry are veritable siren songs to the un- and underemployed, often desperate people languishing on their sofas while all those successful folks with briefcases and Italian leather shoes rush toward their futures. Such schools sell convenience — the opportunity to "go to school in your pajamas" (why this is such an attractive prospect, we'll never know), to take classes at your own pace and around your own schedule — and a willingness to overlook prior academic underachievement, all while ignoring a fact that far too many people are loath to accept: Not everyone is cut out for college.
The proprietary college industry is built, in large measure, upon the backs of people who aren't necessarily suited for school — a situation that appears integral to the business model. The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed suit against Education Management Corporation, the country's second-largest for-profit college company, in part because whistle-blowers alleged it was violating federal law by paying recruiters based on how many students they enrolled. EDMC operates several colleges in Georgia, including the Art Institutes in Atlanta and Decatur, Argosy University in Sandy Springs, Brown Mackie College in Buckhead, and South University in Savannah.
The New York Times has reported that EDMC recruiters were instructed to target people who were patently unqualified for a higher education, including people who were illiterate, appeared to be on drugs and those who wanted to take online classes but didn't even own a computer.
These are, of course, extreme examples of students who shouldn't bother with college. But then there's the other demographic: sober-minded, literate young people whose crappy high school grades and feeble standardized test scores prevent them from being accepted into traditional four-year colleges and universities. Even for these well-intentioned folks, we repeat: Not everyone is cut out for college.
Instead of earning an all-but-worthless degree in psychology, liberal arts or business administration from whichever for-profit institution has the best pitch, many young people would be better served learning a trade. You know: making things, fixing things. Skilled and expert labor is always in demand and there are ways to learn on the job while making money — union apprenticeships for aspiring electricians, plumbers and carpenters come to mind — rather than using school simply to put off the inevitable (i.e., full-time, real-world work) while descending deep into debt.
One thing those commercials never mention is that for-profit colleges are insanely expensive. Rather than a bona fide college education, students are simply paying for their degree. They often do so using federal loans they can't pay back. The Times reports that even though for-profit schools account for only 10 percent of higher education enrollment, their students are responsible for about half of all student loan defaults. Which means for-profit colleges aren't just bad for the people suckered into attending, they're bad for everyone.