Wednesday, November 16, 2005

For-Profit Colleges

My first piece for Slate magazine went up today. It's about what I consider to be the worrisome growth of for-profit colleges--a corrupt, variable-quality, expensive choice targeted at low-income and minority students with little experience in higher education.

I worked really hard on the piece. My first draft(s) had too much information in it and not enough of an argument, which I struggled to refine; it's not perfectly there yet, I feel like I could write a whole series on the subject. For example, I didn't really go into the way that class issues come to bear on the quality of education offered to people. I have been reading Slate for a long time but I haven't mastered the way their writers give a neat fillip to an argument. It seems you need a provocative thesis or partisan slant or at least amusing writing--preferably all three--to maneuver boring information over the threshold of an increasingly sated and jaded audience. Who knew?


Anonymous said...

Anya, I'm a huge fan of your work, but I think that you are a little too dismissive about for-profit schools. I don't think we need to throw the baby out with the (admittedly highly) polluted bathwater. I've been won over by some of the things I've read, including Richard Ruch's book. The for-profit business model presents an opportunity to provide high-quality education at low cost. For-profit schools: raise their prices at lower rates than private non-profit schools, often employ instructors who focus full-time on teaching instead of research, and for-profit schools pay taxes, giving money back to the government that the government can then use in positive ways (of course, whether or not the government uses that tax money properly is a different debate, but the opportunity is there). "Non-profit" schools are not really non-profit; they make billions, in many different ways, including tuition, endowment donations, over-priced food and housing, merchandise and sports. But they don't pay any taxes. "Non-profits" also pay ridiculously high salaries to their top administrators. D for-profits take a large number of Pell grants and student loan money? Uhh, I think that non-profits probably take much more of that money (especially loan money), as well as other tax money for creating new buildings, and educational efforts. Plus, non-profits take billions of government money for worthless research projects. For-profits "manipulate" students into attending? Our whole society manipulates kids into attending colleges, and plenty of non-profit schools have their own marketing techniques, including paying off high school guidance counselors, and running three hour television ads each week in the form of football games. As to the "uneven quality" of for-profits' offerings, plenty of non-profot offerings are also "uneven." For-profit students must "make do with marketing claims"? Uhh, US News rankings are probably one of non-profit schools' biggest marketing tools, and far from an objective and accurate tool. I think that, in analyzing the pros and cons of for-profit schools, they have to be compared to the pros and cons of non-profit schools. While many for-profit schools clearly abuse the system, the for-profit college model holds the keys that will allow our society to make college more affordable and high-quality for all students.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, the Google ad at the top of your blog today is for a (for-profit) bartending school.