Saturday, May 08, 2010

For-profit schools take a hit from Frontline

(Update: Comments below and links to related blog posts) If you've had doubts about for-profit schools, many of your worst suspicions will be confirmed in the new Frontline documentary about for-profit higher education. I've embedded the video of "College, Inc." at the bottom of this post. It's about an hour long, with sections on the boom in for-profit education sparked by the success of the University of Phoenix, the high-pressure sales tactics used by some of universities, how regulators are treating the industry, and the huge problems students have encountered with student debt. Unfortunately, though, there's not a lot of discussion about teaching quality or job placement data.

Here are a few of the highlights and quotes, from the narrator and subjects interviewed on camera:

Why the industry has grown so rapidly:
  • There are 30-50 million working American adults without a college diploma. In years past, this segment of the population could find good jobs with just a high school degree. Not anymore.
  • "The demand is so great, community colleges can't keep up."
  • Federal educational loans: "The taxpayers are essentially funding this industry." UOP gets something like 86% of its revenue from the federal government, through FAFSA loans.
  • For-profit salespeople set up shop at job fairs
  • 2.8 million students attending for profit schools
The University of Phoenix model and the boom it helped create:
  • "They hired people on short-term contracts, to keep costs low."
  • "They did away with tenure"
  • For-profit schools cost as much as 5-6 times as a community college: $400-$550 per credit hour
  • Profits have attracted Wall Street, which has boosted the number of players in the market. Investors, seeing the huge profits that Apollo Group/University of Phoenix made (the founder is a billionaire), are trying to scoop up small, failing local non-profit colleges and turn them into for-profit schools. Why? "If you can find an underperforming traditional school with regional accreditation, that's a very valuable property."
  • Why not build a for-profit school from the ground up? "It costs 10 million dollars, 10 years, and a 50/50 chance of success, to obtain regional accreditation. … Once you have accreditation, you qualify for student loan program." (Fortunately, accrediting bodies have been increasing scrutiny of this sort of "flipping")
Marketing for-profit degrees:
  • Grand Canyon college spent $25 million last year on marketing.
  • University of Phoenix spent $130 million on marketing in just one year. This rivals what they spend on teaching.
  • Former UOP exec: 1/4 of revenue spent on sales and marketing, about 20% on faculty
Online education:
  • Grand Canyon college: 90% of GC students are logging in. About 40,000 students total, 35,000 online.
  • Crucial to Grand Canyon's success: Physical campus helps build the brand, says the CEO
  • Online education at some schools: Mostly instructor-led discussion groups
  • "It is difficult to assess the quality of the degrees."
  • Some students are happy with their education, and said so on camera.
  • University of Illinois education expert: "The danger obviously is a kind of fast fooditization of higher education itself, where low cost, convenience and ease of finishing become values in themselves to the possible detriment to the things that can be accomplished slowly and over time."
Problems with for-profit schools:
  • Argosy University and its parent company EDMC: Unaccredited in Dallas area, and are facing a lawsuit from former graduate students who said they were misled about job prospects.
  • Everest College and parent Corinthian: 3 former vocational nursing students describing how their pediatric rotation took place in a daycare, and psych rotation took place in some sort of Scientology center. They paid more than $28,000 for their education, but haven't been able to get jobs in hospitals because their education did not include any hospital experience.
  • Lobbyist for traditional universities believes for-profit student default rate could be as high as 50%
  • High-pressure sales tactics described at about 21:30
  • "On average, the debt load of for-profit students is more than twice that of students at traditional schools."
  • When defaults happen, "The for-profit college … is not on the hook. It's the taxpayer. It's you and me. It's the federal government."
Frontline: College, Inc.:

At some point in the future, I hope to see Frontline or some other news organization take a hard look at both the good and bad when it comes to quality of instruction at for-profit and online education.

Update: Since writing this post, I have taken an online math class for credit, and have this to say about the online education experience:

You may also be interested in reading my other posts about the University of Phoenix, online education, and other educational issues:


  1. I understand that for profit colleges and universities have created controversy. This was especially true in 2007. I started at UOP in 2007 in a certificate program for Human Resources Management. I went on to earn my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Public Administration. I can tell you that the quality of the instructors in 2007 was above average to the instructors I had previously at a few community colleges and a small private college. The caliber of the instructors improved markedly between 2009-2011. In addition, in late 2011, UOP instituted a "final exam" for core course and several business/public administration courses I attended. I have found that earning your education online as compared to in a brick-and-mortar classroom is all about what you are willing to put into it. Yes, in a classroom if you do your studying, research, etc. you will receive more knowledge. However, UOP does not "spoon feed" its students. There is a tremendous amount of research, independent studying, critical thinking, and innovation that a student must put into taking online classes. As well, I have found that students that succeed in the online classroom develop superior writing skills. If they don't, their grades are marginal to failing. A lot depends on communication expressed in written form from answering discussion questions several times per week, online discussions, two or more essay papers, and communication with the instructor and team members. I seriously hated most of the team experiences I had but I think it taught me a valuable lesson about how to survive in a business team-oriented workforce. I worked hard, showed leadership, and EARNED a GPA of 3.9. I graduated with honors. I look forward to earning my Masters with UOP. As with any academic experience; you get out of it what you are willing to put into it. I think this may be the key as to why there are so many comments from disgruntled students of UOP and other online colleges/universities. They were not willing to do the caliber of work needed to succeed.

  2. I have two degrees from University of Phoenix... I truly believe after struggling to find employment after each degree, the credibility of this degree wards off employers.


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