ForProfitU: A New Campaign Against For-Profits [UPDATED]

Sometime in the last few weeks, a new website has gone up that monitors for-profit education. It’s called ForProfitU, and it’s a project of the Service Employees International Union. According to the website’s About page, “For-Profit U aims to educate students, parents, press and the general public on the dangers of for-profit colleges.” On February 2, they held a “webinar” event featuring people from across the education spectrum, on the dangers of for-profit schools (video of that event is, unfortunately, not currently available, but the webpage for it promises it will be soon).

If you look around the website, you might be struck, as I was, with a few questions.

My first question is why is the SEIU working on this? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that they are, and they are a very progressive union, so in some way it makes sense that they’d take up this equally progressive cause. It just seems unrelated, though some students might be union members – especially at for-profits, where many students are taking classes part-time while working other jobs.

As I looked around the website, something else stood out: ForProfitU is really only focused on one company, Education Management Corporation (EDMC). Their for-profit “Watch List” is made up of four schools – The Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College, and South University – all owned by EDMC. They have a Q&A section specifically about the company. Of the eight people at their webinar event, half were formerly associated with EDMC, as students, instructors, or recruiters (the other four panelists were not professionally or academically associated with any for-profit schools). EDMC seems to be the example company in every case. In fact, I couldn’t find any other for-profit schools or parent companies mentioned by name anywhere on the website (though if you find any, let me know and I’ll update this post).

Now, EDMC is one of the larger for-profit education companies, but it’s not the only one. So why is it singled out by the SEIU? I’ve e-mailed their contact person and will follow up if I hear anything.

2/15 UPDATE: I spoke with the SEIU’s Kevin O’Donnell by e-mail and by phone. He explained that they are focusing on EDMC because the project grew out of looking at how EDMC treats its workers, and then expanded into how it affects working families in general. He said that they believe the University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit, has been well-scrutinized by the media, and that EDMC, which he says is the second-largest for-profit by enrollment, has generally escaped that scrutiny. O’Donnell says that they plan to branch out and discuss other for-profits as well.

Follow me on twitter for more news from the for-profit college industry: @forprofitwatch

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