Surprising statistics from the Department of Education; it turns out that for-profit higher education, the tip of the spear of the Online Teaching Revolution, is comparatively terrible.

Students at for-profit colleges represent about 13% of the total higher education population, but a disproportionate number of federal student loans — about 31% of all loans –go to such schools, which are popular with adult students and veterans trying to launch careers. Nearly half of all college loan defaults are from students enrolled in such programs, according to Department of Education statistics.

Half – HALF! – of all loan defaults come from the 13% of students at for-profits. The dirty secret throughout this boom is that the Phoenixes and Kaplans and Strayers are really, staggeringly bad at educating students. I don't mean that only in the "online classes are terrible" sense (although god knows they are) but in terms of basic measures like student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduation success. When 20% of your students are graduating compared to 55% across all public universities and nearly two-thirds at privates, you're barely a university.

It's refreshing to see the administration take some (baby) steps toward reining in this mess of an industry – and yes, the exact same standards and penalties should be applied to brick-and-mortar not-for-profit universities. If a four-year public school is graduating something like 5-10% of enrolled first-time students, the state legislature and university system need to consider, in a serious, non-condescending way, whether that student population could be better served by a two-year or technical school.

And while we're at it, why don't we stop requiring degrees for jobs that don't actually require a degree to do. And encouraging everyone to go to college even if they have neither an idea of why they're going nor a desire to go. And moving government employees up the pay scale based not on their good performance but on whether they buy a Master's Degree from some ludicrous online diploma mill. And allowing economic and political elites to use "Go to college!" as some kind of blanket solution to a crippled economy when what they really mean is "Hide out for four years, amass debt, and…maybe things will be better by then?"

But those are arguments for another day.

35 thoughts on “STUNNING!”

  • Perhaps the private sector might stop shirking training expenses? If they trained to their specific requirements, it could be far more focused.

  • And allowing economic and political elites to use "Go to college!" as some kind of blanket solution to a crippled economy when what they really mean is "Hide out for four years, amass debt, and…maybe things will be better by then?"

    This may contain the answer to some of the earlier "why don't we" questions.

  • And this: "According to the National Center for Education statistics, 5.5 million students took at least one online course in 2012. That number is increasing rapidly as massive open online courses are offered by more universities and gain in popularity among students. Universities are scrambling to keep up with the novel methods students have found to cheat on these courses."

  • Online education for younger students is becoming all the rage and there are companies like K-12 (probably the biggest) that sell their services to charter schools and parents wanting a homeschool experience for their children that's actually got some academic merit (as opposed to the Bob Jones and A Beka whackadoodle religious companies).

    Anecdata time: my family used a combination of community college and an online school for a child who was very gifted in some areas and just average in others. We went with an online school that is accredited (that is, has some sort of outside oversight that assures the child is learning something academic) and provides an actual, recognized diploma–most "homeschool" programs don't offer that. Our choice was bought out by K-12, a company co-founded by Bill Bennett (of the "abort every black baby to reduce crime" mentality) and I saw a plummet in the online school's educational value as more of the course dollars were used for political lobbying. The teachers became much more stressed and stretched thin, too.

    I was also seeing this at the community college–more classes were being taught by adjuncts and the classes were bigger. The school began pushing online courses, and my child (now a veteran of online courses) said the ones he had to take at the community college were TERRIBLE. (As a parent, I saw that I had to pay $80 for the code that allowed the student to get access to the online material, which was just ridiculous because a dozen pages of photocopied handouts would have been more valuable).

    More anecdata; as an adult in the IT field, I am finding it impossible to get my employer to pay for training. The hoops to jump through and the loopholes that keep the employer from having to pay out (my favorite: "You signing the training agreement in BLUE INK, so we don't have to reimburse you!") mean that anything I feel I need to supplement my expertise in this ever-advancing field comes out of my own pocket.

  • Assistant Professor says:

    Back at my last job, I knew some folks who'd occasionally done a spot of adjuncting (in-class rather than online) at Strayer and Kaplan. They had… stories. Things like fistfights breaking out in the classroom, students who were illiterate, and pressure to pass students who clearly had no grasp of the material.

  • Think what might be accomplished if the effort business puts into avoiding costs was used for something constructive…

  • And while we're at it, why don't we stop requiring degrees for jobs that don't actually require a degree to do.

    Honestly that entire last paragraph is really the solution to the for-profit university problem. Either that or let's start admitting that college is compulsory and make it an extension of the public school system: y'know, FREE.

  • @Hobbes: "…make it an extension of the public school system: y'know, FREE."

    Ah! But therein lies the rub, for they're trying to kill off the "free" part of public education and make it all for profit.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Businesses used to look for people with the aptitude to do a good job in the jobs that were available, and then trained them.
    Unions had apprenticeship programs that did the same thing.

    But training new-hires costs money, so training is now something that businesses can save money on, by not providing any training, besides some rudimentary HR stuff.

    The businesses demand that people have one degree or another – or, comparable certification.

    So, here we sit.
    Unions are virtually dead in this country, and businesses are outsourcing training to wherever the person looking for work wants to go.

    If the people choose badly, it's no skin off the businesses ass – they've lost nothing, and it's cost them nothing.

    Marx and Engels were right, and eventually we're all going to get completely fucked over by unbridled, unregulated, Capitalism – except the rich and powerful, of course.
    It's their horses, and they prefer they be unbridled.

  • This goes back to the monopoly post. Too few jobs means only the best get hired. Thus the rise of price gouging rent seekers. The solution of course is to increase the money supply which will increase demand and cause the labor markets to tighten up. Suddenly everyone won't have to get a phd to be a barrista.

  • My wife works in the Dean's office of a College of Business at a large state university. When she was first hired 30 years ago she was a 3/4 time budget manager with 6 hours of introductory accounting and no 4 year degree. Other than some spreadsheet classes decades ago she hasn't had any other education for her job. She consistently gets higher than minimum increases in her salary. When she retires this year her job will be posted as Bachelors in Accounting, Masters preferred.

    Her job is far more complex than 30 years ago but it's not anything that a decently intelligent person with some knowledge of spreadsheets couldn't master in a complete monetary cycle of about a year. The Masters in Accounting that'll replace her will take the same year to learn the job.

    Why the need for a Masters Degree? To justify a starting salary commensurate with her retiring salary.

  • "And moving government employees up the pay scale based not on their good performance but on whether they buy a Master's Degree from some ludicrous online diploma mill."

    YES. I got so sick of that when I lived in DC. (fed at party) "Oh, I have a Master's degree in National Security Management!" (me) "Do you really?!? Wow! Where from?" (fed) "Mumble mumble online diploma mill grumble CHANGE THE SUBJECT!"

    EVERYBODY had at least a Master's degree… and not one of them meant anything in real terms.

  • GunstarGreen says:

    Surprising absolutely no one, when put into the field of educating people the free market does what it does best — produce cheap, shitty product at inflated prices for suckers to waste their money on.

  • I work in the public sector and it is extremely credential oriented. In my office, there are people with Associate's or no degree (me) and people with Master's or PhDs. I am getting a Bachelor's in Public Administration because I know if anything happened to my current job (which is low paying but quite satisfying most of the time), I would have a very hard time finding another job that would be equally interesting or pays as much as my low paying job pays.

    I do attend a primarily online school, but mine is a non-profit and has been around since the early 70s. My teachers are well respected professionals in their fields. I expect to graduate next spring. It would take much longer if I had to go to an actual classroom – which is why it took me 6 years to get my Associate's.

    I do think the bean counters look at the pay and decide, well, if I'm paying you that much, I better see some credentials, whether they're required or not. Heck, I see automobile dealers advertising that a bachelor's is required for their receptionist. It's ridiculous.

  • Joke(ish) regarding the training thing:

    Manager 1: What if we train the employees on New Thingy X and they leave?

    Manager 2: What if we don't, and they STAY?

  • Is it just me or are free markets and capitalism a terrible idea.

    Today – for profit schools (notably those using a new/cheaper medium) are crap

    Yesterday – capitalism/free market = less pay for women (but they're really busy so there's that)

    Monday – the concept of capitalism/free market is inherently flawed because the ones pulling the strings (disproportionately rich white males) shape just how free the market is and the definition of work, labor, poverty, wealth, hapiness, etc. Essentially this is Imperalism 2.0 but instead of lords and ladies we have senators, congresswomen, CEO's, & PACs.

    Someone get me a taco – we need a revolution.

  • Many (most? all?) for-profit educators are primarily in the business of harvesting government student loan dollars.

    The appearance– or even a plausible argument– that what they are marketing has value is all they need or want in their product.

  • @rustonite: not being familiar with Harris-Stowe, I Googled for news about it. The first item I came up with was this article about faculty pay negotiations.

    So, I agree it's shameful that university faculty are being squeezed and undervalued. At least the administration and faculty came to an agreement on raises and benefits. And now the contract is being held up by sticking points like this:

    "the school wants faculty members to spend 12 hours a week in their offices, where students can visit them, instead of the current four-hour requirement."

    Really? The professors, whose job (we would hope) includes helping students to learn, are refusing to budge on being more available for those students? Four hours per week of office hours doesn't seem very convenient for the students. Twelve would still be less than three hours per day.

  • Hah, silly me, I assumed that professors' "offices" were actually rooms where they could study, talk to students, prepare their classwork, etc. Shows what I know, going to school in the fancy-schmancy 80's!

    From another article that's written a bit more sympathetically to the faculty, one of the professors 'says, "most faculty do not have an office with floor-to-ceiling walls or door," making it very difficult to "prepare lectures and class assignments." '

    So universities are now cube farms. I concede, things suck all over.

  • I work at a state U and am getting pretty pissed off with our current hiring process. We need someone with good technical skills, but while a BS would certainly be a benefit, it is by no means required for the position and we would gladly take a highly skilled employee with no college education over a college educated person with no techical skills, providing the right person came along. The incredible frustrating thing is that that decision should be made by the hiring manager and the hiring committee. Instead our hiring process now starts with the big wigs in the HR group who refuse to pass any candidate that doesn't have at least the bachelors degree. We could be bypassing the best candidate for the job because some idiot in HR thinks that a bachelors degree should be required.

  • Sorry, but mandating 12 hours per week of office hours is ridiculous. 90% of each semester's office hours would be spent idling the time away.

  • Townsend Harris says:

    "the business of harvesting government student loan dollars"

    I knew I didn't teach at a diploma mill because my comprehensive public college maintained standards for earning associates and baccalaureates. But I also knew an enormous army of students swept through the college, and every year a cabbie picking me up would tell me had gone to our school. I finally read an article in The Washington Monthly that described the diploma mill's first cousin, the dropout factory. We matriculated the weakest, most at-risk students, provided them with scant or no support services, collected their financial aid and loan monies, and watched them drop out.

    We made the Washington Monthly's Top 50 List of dropout factories.

  • US in the UK says:

    @Jimcat and Jude

    No, the problem is that what professors actually get disciplinary prestige for is publications. Working on a scientific article is not something that you can just put down any time someone walks in the door and pick up right after they leave. It is probably a sacrilege to say that professors' jobs are actually somewhat creative – trying to contribute an original thought to the literature. Put in 3 hours a day for students (3×4 or 2.5×5) breaks the highly needed *continuous* hours to get the literature, methods, your idea up and spinning so that when you are working, you can see the whole thing in your head (after all the work of reading everything, getting the data, cleaning and codingthe data, etc….).

    Writing an article is easy. Getting it all straight in your head takes time and some serious alone time (I'll speak for myself but my intuition tells me I'm not alone here).

    Not to be a douche but, you know….

  • No, no, I'll admit there is a lot I don't know about how a professor does their job. When I was a student, I pretty much assumed that they divided their time about equally between teaching and research. And most of the professors at my alma mater did enjoy meeting with students and helping them to learn.

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Surprising absolutely no one, when put into the field of educating people the free market does what it does best….

    Cheap. Fast. Good. Pick two…. Education isn't that different from everything else.

  • Post secondary education is the whipping boy excuse for the predations of globalization. It really is that simple.

  • US in the UK says:


    Cool – Most of my colleagues like students and want to help them. They also want to be able to work (i.e. research *and* – for the better of them – prepping classes). It's a balance.

    Rock on

  • @DXM

    The old saw is Good, Fast, and Cheap…MAXIMUM two.

    I think the subject at hand shows how you can get ZERO out of three…Crappy product, delivered over years, and at a penalty of great and on-going indebtedness to the student.


  • Bitter Scribe says:

    You know why the government doesn't come down hard on these parasites? It's because these parasites have become so engorged with what amounts to taxpayer dollars* that they can buy members of Congress.

    *Federally insured loans ultimately cost taxpayers when they're issued to people who are almost sure to default.

  • I just found this blog, so i'm late to the discussion. But, I spent 2 years working at a for-profit. It was a joke. The only requirement for enrollment was that the prospective student have a h.s. diploma or a GED. Many students were functionally illiterate. I helped one student who did not even know how to open a Word document to write a paper. They enrolled veterans from the vet homeless shelter and put them in debt. I remember one guy telling me that this was his absolute last chance to make something of himself as he was at the end of his rope. I wanted to cry.

    The corporate business model involved frequent firings which I'm sure was planned to keep disgruntled students off their back. "Oh, did that admissions rep promise you that? We are sorry, but he's no longer here so we can't be responsible for his lies. We fired him".

    They advertise as "veteran friendly" but in reality, they like the veteran benefits. They are only allowed by law to have a certain percentage of their funding come from federal grants and loans, but veteran money doesn't count.

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