Vive Le Canada

For-profit colleges have lots of champions-and lots of problems
Date: Saturday, November 19 2005
Topic:


The Profit Chase
For-profit colleges have lots of champions—and lots of problems.
By Anya Kamenetz
Posted Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005, at 3:18 PM ET

You've seen this ad before, on the subway or at a bus shelter: An
attractive young ethnic type beams in three-quarter profile, against
a background of blue sky and clouds, looking off at … his future. At
the bottom appears an aspirational word like Apex or Phoenix or
Capella. Despite appearances, the product is not a
psychopharmaceutical; it's one of the nation's 2,000-odd for-profit
colleges.

So-called proprietary schools, which rely on tuition to both cover
their operating costs and turn a profit, enroll about 1.6 million of
the 20 million students at all accredited colleges nationwide; they
run 28 percent of all two-year colleges. Their enrollment is growing
four times faster than the sector as a whole, about 8 percent a year.
The largest is the Apollo Group, which operates the well-known
University of Phoenix and three other colleges. In all, Apollo has
176 locations, plus many online programs, with a total enrollment of
307,400 students in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada, up
there with the largest state university systems.


Conservatives have hailed the robust for-profit college phenomenon as
a welcome infusion of free-market forces into an otherwise bloated
higher-education sector. The top official at the Department of
Education making decisions about higher education, Bush appointee
Sally Stroup, was previously a lobbyist for the Apollo Group. A
vigorous champion of proprietary schools, Richard Vedder of AEI was
recently named to a blue-ribbon Department of Education commission on
the future of higher education that aims to tackle, among other
things, the issue of soaring costs. Proprietary schools, among the
largest donors to higher-education committee members, not
surprisingly also have many loyal Republican supporters in Congress.

But before we herald these institutions as the smarter, leaner future
of higher education, it is worth scrutinizing their practices and
their shady past. There is no question that they are adept at turning
a profit. Yet commercial colleges' long history of ethical lapses and
the highly uneven quality of their offerings make them a poor model
for a higher-education field in crisis.

American "career colleges" date back to the 1850s, when H.B. Stratton
and P.R. Bryant founded a chain of 50 schools starting in Buffalo,
N.Y., to teach shorthand, bookkeeping, and the use of the newfangled
mechanical typewriter primarily to women, who were not welcome at
most traditional colleges. They occupied cheap rental space in
downtown office buildings rather than spending money on leafy
campuses. The industry also grew through correspondence courses,
which acquired a checkered reputation over the years. For every
reputable accounting program, there were hucksters like the bogus art
schools that took out the famous "can you draw this?" matchbook ads.

As the liberal arts curriculum evolved (or devolved) from the
classics, to the humanities, to today's critical-thinking courses and
ethnic-studies departments, the need for vocational education
remained, and commercial institutions were there to fill it. They
attracted underserved students, especially low-income and working
adults, by offering accelerated courses with flexible schedules and
focusing their pitch on job placement. These schools commonly report
placement rates of a credulity-straining 80 percent or 90 percent, no
matter what the program; the Department of Education does not track
or verify these numbers. Tuition is set far above the rates charged
by public community colleges, for-profits' main competitors, yet
below those at private nonprofits.

http://www.slate.com/id/2130516/


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