There is a lesson to be learned from a new report exposing the deceptive and unethical practices of for-profit colleges and universities, and it’s a much broader lesson than the narrow, mushy, call for greater “regulatory scrutiny” in today’s Seattle Times.
A scathing report by the influential think tank, Education Trust, offers a damning list of examples. Only 22 percent of students in for-profit colleges’ four-year programs earn degrees within six years. Contrast that with a 55 percent six-year graduation rate at public colleges and a 65 percent rate at private nonprofit schools.
The most egregious example is a 9 percent graduation rate at the University of Phoenix — the nation’s largest for-profit postsecondary education provider as well as the recipient of more than $1 billion in federal Pell Grant aid last year.
While some career colleges have achieved a level of credibility, the business model at far too many appears to be one based on student failure, not success.
The emphasis is mine, and I added it to highlight the inescapable conclusion that so many of our nation’s respectable pundits are too fearful and/or ideologically rigid to admit: there are simply some things that are simply best left outside the profit-driven clutches of the market.
And education—K-12 and beyond—is one of ’em.
This by the way, is one of the reasons why I oppose the charter school movement, which seems to be based on the attractively simple proposition that competition between schools will foster innovation and improvement. You know, sprinkle a little free market pixie dust on our public school systems and the problems and inefficiencies will just sort themselves out on their own. Or perhaps the invisible hand of God will reach in and personally carve lessons on the blackboard. You get the point.
This of course ignores the fact that we’ve had plenty of competition between public schools for, well, forever, and it hasn’t done anything to improve the failing ones. Those parents who could afford to move to neighborhoods with good schools, did so, and those who couldn’t… well… their children got what they got.
Now I know what the knee-jerk, free market apologists are going to say: the problem with for-profit colleges is not the profit-motive but rather the distortion of the market caused by government grants, loans and other education subsidies. If the government would just get out of the higher education business—you know, no financial aid, no community colleges or public universities, no research grants, no nothing—the market would be free to allocate resources efficiently and provide the best and most affordable higher education system possible.
Or, instead of relying on magic, we could as a society, you know, invest more heavily in our community college systems, so that technical and career degrees would be more widely available to qualified students, and from institutions whose primary obligation isn’t to the shareholder.
But for, say, the Seattle Times editors to call for that, would also require them to call for raising more tax revenues to pay for it. So instead they just waste the opportunity by settling for a little stern, finger-wagging.