Is the Exploitation of Education Coming to an End?

In The New York Times today is an article, “For-Profit Colleges Accused of Fraud Still Receive U.S. Funds.” Exploitation of the failed student loan programs (failed, that is, in terms of protection against fraud by for-profits) continues, the Times says, even in the face of an Education Department crackdown on “bad actors.” The article claims:

The career training and for-profit college industry has been accused in recent years of preying on the poor, veterans and minorities by charging exorbitant fees for degrees that mostly fail to deliver promised skills and jobs. Without government funds, which account for the overwhelming bulk of revenue, few of these institutions could attract students or stay in business.

Making educational institutions into profit centers is never a good idea, neither in higher education nor in k-12. Schools need stability of a sort that the risks and attractions of the marketplace cannot provide. They need respect for students and teachers that is never completely given to customers and employees—respect, in business, is reserved primarily for profits.

The article continues, “Despite stepped-up scrutiny, hundreds of schools that have failed regulatory standards or been accused of violating legal statutes are still hauling in billions of dollars of government funds.” The people behind these “businesses” have a great deal of clout with government, just as does the charter-school “industry.” Kaplan University, for example, is owned by the Washington Post Co.

One of the ironies of the article is this:

The continuing flow of money illustrates the quandary facing federal education officials. On one hand, they are trying to protect taxpayer funds and prevent students from falling deeply into debt without anything to show for it. On the other, they must avoid running roughshod over private for-profit schools that have not been found guilty of wrongdoing.

Must? A blanket moratorium would be the best protection for students and for everyone else invested in real education—as opposed to purchased “diplomas.” The schools complain that it’s a few bad apples causing the problem, but the underlying structure of for-profit educational enterprises invites corruption and exploitation, especially when there is federal money easily available in a form that absolves the enterprises, for the most part, from consequences (though that, we see, is changing).

There’s a war going on right now over the future of American education at all levels—and anyone not already aware of it simply does not care. We’ve had a number of posts about some of the skirmishes recently, one about charter-school shenanigans at the Department of Education, another about the real reasons for charter schools, and another about Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy, the Democratic Scott Walker, who had proposed an anti-union proposal concerning Connecticut State University.

Those attempting to wrest control of education from the public often style themselves as “reformers” out to stop featherbedding unions and to expel incompetent teachers. The reality, though, is that corporation moguls, having taken note of the huge amounts of money involved in education, have created the image of an education “crisis” in order to gather some of that money into their coffers.

For a long time, it looked as though they were winning. Today, that seems to be starting to change.

2 thoughts on “Is the Exploitation of Education Coming to an End?

  1. “Is the Exploitation of Education Coming to an End?” Certainly not, if we’re going to limit ourselves to looking for it in the for-profit sector. “Exploitation,” in fact, is perfectly normal throughout higher education, including at Professor Barlow’s New York City College of Technology (CUNY), where 2/3 of the faculty are part-time adjuncts making far less per course than the minority “regular” faculty and enjoying few if any benefits.
    This isn’t intended as a criticism of Professor Barlow at all, and indeed I agree with him that “the underlying structure of for-profit educational enterprises invites corruption and exploitation,” but we can’t let that prevent us from seeing how corruption and exploitation also operate, to somebody’s real profit, in the “non-profit” private and public sectors. Corruption, at least of the idea of higher education, and certainly to someone’s profit? A random example here:
    And, how many tuition dollars does it take to support the lifestyle of administrators? Here’s an idea, from a recent student newspaper article at Fordham University:
    But I’m sure you have your own examples, anybody reading this.
    And, again, exploitation? It’s just a normal part of higher education across all sectors, with most colleges and universities relying on a huge population of adjunct and/or contingent faculty, most part-time, who are given an average of $2800 per course. Yes, yes, it’s more than that here and there, and certainly in and around NYC, but it’s disgracefully low everywhere, usually comes with no benefits or professional support and, certainly, no job security. It creates and maintains a dismal churn in the make-up of faculty, who must seek jobs, often every semester, at multiple institutions, and it thoroughly disrupts—here’s one of those famous entrepreneurial words but here it means just exactly what it used to—student-faculty interaction. Exploitation, it’s bad for all faculty, certainly, and, as we know, faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. And not just in the for-profit sector.

    • Yes, and good comments, Alan. ALL educational institutions are corrupted when money becomes the focus. They all end up exploiting people–both teachers and students–in order to gain profits. In the for-profits, it is easy to identify this. In the rest, more difficult. High administrative salaries, perks, campus building designed for administrative enhancement… these are just some of the “profits” in many of the so-called “non-profit” sector.

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