Today in !!Free Markets!!

The New York Times reports that the GAO is set to release a terribly unsurprising study of the US' for-profit colleges and universities. It turns out that a lot of them are in it for the financial aid. A lot of financial aid.

Here's the abbreviated version:
For-profit colleges place recruiters under pressure to deliver consumers, er, students, or face being fired. In order to increase market share, er, enrollment, counselors help fudge financial aid forms. Or they make shit up without students' knowledge. The colleges then collect massive amounts of tuition, er, taxpayer money. Students are frequently left with debts accumulated from attending overpriced institutions of questionable rigor.

This is what happens when you treat education like a commodity.

I don't think that US society properly values education. Politicians talk about the need for everyone to get a college degree, but they don't talk about why. Education is good, I suppose, but what about content? In an economy where employers frequently demand that job candidates have a degree, any degree, there's a huge incentive to get a quick degree in whatever.

Focusing on quick degrees over content devalues the development of skills like writing, reading, and critical thinking. These things take time. The humanities are all about time. Feminism, for that matter, is all about time. Intellectual development is time consuming, and while it need not take place in a classroom, it does take resources.

And what of technical education? Insistence on college degrees devalues traditional methods of apprenticeship and worker-led training.

Community colleges can provide both liberal arts and technical education, but only if they have the money to do so. Despite speeches from the likes of President Obama, US community colleges are serving more students than ever while attempting to balance shrinking budgets.

This is what happens when you treat education like a commodity.

Needless to say, non-profit colleges are in on the action, too. Recruitment is big business. Colleges spent top dollars on housing, rec centers, and other aspects of student life. Not that there's anything wrong with this. But there is something wrong with cutting programs in the social sciences and humanities. Frequently, colleges' focus appear to be giving students what they want: quick, easy degrees in a fun environment. If these students have fond memories of fun times at the stadium, they'll make potential donors to alumni associations.

The US' elite colleges do have a one-up on some for-profit institutions: research. Patentable knowledge brings huge dollars to university-affiliated research foundations and their corporate partners. Overhead from government grants fills university coffers, paying administrative salaries and plugging huge budgetary holes caused by shrinking public funding.

Actual education? It's not so much a priority when money is the driving force.

Have I mentioned that it doesn't have to be this way? There are plenty of nations on Earth (most of them?) where education isn't treated as a commodity.

Does this sort of entitlement program lead to fraud?


Do you know what entitlement fraud looks like?

"At one college in Texas, a recruiter encouraged the undercover investigator not to report $250,000 in savings, saying it was 'not the government’s business.' At a Pennsylvania college, the financial representative told an undercover applicant who had reported a $250,000 inheritance that he should have answered 'zero' when asked about money he had in savings — and then told him she would 'correct' his form by reducing the reported assets to zero, a change she later confirmed by e-mail and voicemail." NYT


Frontline's college, inc. was an amazing documentary on this subject. I thought about working bits of the (transcribed) interviews into this post, but I can't do them justice.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus