Saturday, May 15, 2010

Frontline Slams For-Profit Colleges

I just got done listening to the Frontline show "College Inc." It is an examination of the for-profit education business. It is certainly a business and that clearly bothers some people, especially those from more traditional education.

The show did show many good things and probably gave as unbiased a view as they could, given their mindset. I would be most of those involved with the show's production were very used to only the more traditional academic environment.

A couple of things bothered me about the show and I am listing them in the order I think of them, not necessarily their order of importance.

- They continually complained that the cost of a for-profit education is much more than that at a more traditional community college or regular university. In this, they failed to note how it compared to the cost of each student in such organizations when you factored in the money such schools receive from government at all levels. Is it really so different in that case? Perhaps, though I have my doubts. While government money to education is being trimmed in some places, it still amounts to a lot of money. Tuition costs are also rising rather rapidly from what I have seen.

- Many of the "sad stories" they give of people who made poor choices were truly sad. Unfortunately, the real problem is getting too much debt, something that plagues our society in so many ways. A significant cause of the current credit crisis was too much credit for a wide ranger of things. Are the producers really certain that this is the only stupid thing people have done and are paying the price for now? How about even interviewing those who have huge amounts of debt and possibly no degree from a large state school? How about an elite college, like Harvard?

People run up bills for stupid things all the time. We should be actively telling people to not fund an education, or much else for that matter, on debt. Staying debt free is much more important than just picking apart specific examples.

- The regulators on the show seemed no different than the ones in other areas who want to assert their power and ability to rule the area they are over. Does anyone really trust that government regulators are always correct? Maybe they are in this case, maybe not, but where were the questions about how this could be getting spun the wrong way?

- What about the large number of failures in more traditional education? I am sure they could fill a whole show with those. That would probably not fit their anti-business (at least in this area) bias though.

- A question was asked near the end, "Is education a business?" Who can really say it hasn't been for many years? The interviewer needs to go back to school himself if he doesn't think traditional education is a huge business. It is also a monopoly in places, with false shortages, encouragement that "only the elite can make it" and other such "pressure" items to get parents and others to pay the huge costs for such education.


The biggest thing the show indicated is that the traditional establishment doesn't like change and that people need to pay attention before they commit. On the latter, individuals need to realize they are responsible for their own lives. No one will look out for all problems for you. Unfortunately, we live in a society where no one really wants to take ownership and responsibility for their own life!

If someone promises you something that seems too good, it probably is. You should deeply investigate anything before signing on the bottom line.

The fact that traditional education is against this is not surprising at all. They get huge amounts of money from the government now and they have largely been a monopoly for many years. They would definitely not want anyone to step in and interrupt their ability to control all aspects of education as much as they have for the past hundreds of years.

If you want to compare both "education industries," you should compare the full costs on all the parts, not just the money paid up front. Factor in the money colleges get from government at all levels. Evaluate the promises that all colleges and schools make to prospective students.

When they take the same spotlight on so-called non-profit education I will take them more seriously. Though they might also have to start looking at how much "non-profit" non-profit TV really is these days as well, though that would be against their own interests so I don't expect to see a show on that any time soon.

I remember the outcry about the commercialization of the Internet in the early 1990s. Many proclaimed how unfair it was to make money on the Internet and how that would ruin it. I think the naysayers really missed the boat on that one. Could it be the are in the same spirit and wrong on this one too?

I will probably write more about this later.

I do want to note that these thoughts are my own and do not represent those of any organization I may have a relationship with.

Disclaimer: I do some teaching and other work for a well known for-profit university and may do other teaching in this field in the future. My goal is to help people learn, however I can!

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