Monday, August 1, 2011

Problems with for-profit education

I have a client who is getting terrible advice and direction from his academic advisors at a for-profit university. All my clients, of course, are having trouble--they wouldn't come find me if they weren't. But it seems to me that the students at for-profit schools get hit the hardest--they pay the most and get the least support, and the least useful support. I do not mean to suggest that all for-profit schools are doing their students a disservice, but I think that some are.

A for-profit school has, at best, a mixed incentive to graduate its students: every student who doesn't graduate will pay fees for the next semester. Of course graduating students helps you promote your business to future clients, but still--on the principle that a bird in the hand in worth two in the bush--for-profit schools have an incentive to keep students from graduating.

For-profit schools also have an incentive to cut resources spent on educating students to a minimum--the lower the costs, the higher the profit. Of course, to the extent that there are accreditation boards, there is a bar of quality over which all schools must pass, but there is incentive to stay as close to the bar as possible.

For-profit schools, it must be kept in mind, are intended to make a profit. That is a strong incentive which necessarily guides the decisions made by for-profit schools. There may be other motivations guiding them, but their desire to make a profit is necessarily central. And it's an aim that competes with the aim of educating people.

In public education, the aim of the school (ideally) is to educate people to contribute to the common good. Of course there may be corrupt people within the public education system who are trying to work that system for their own gain, and thus detract from the resources spent on the students, but then again, it's not as if for-profit companies are free from individual malfeasance.

I guess I would say that if you're thinking of giving your money to a for-profit school, you might well benefit from seeing if there are any public universities that offer comparable programs.

I have worked with students who did have helpful faculty at their for-profit school, but the worst I've ever seen at a real school (public, or private non-profit) is far above what I've seen at the for-profit schools. The quality of the feedback received by the client who prompted this post is really atrocious--in three rounds of submission, he has gotten useful feedback twice, but once the useful feedback was followed by direction that was absolutely indefensible from any scholarly perspective.

If you're having trouble at your for-profit school, I can help, and I'll charge less than your school.