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Are for-profit colleges just diploma mills?


By Brendan Iglehart



For-profit higher education has been taking a lot of heat recently.

Despite the fact that only around 9 percent of students enrolled in college attend for-profit schools, these institutions consume around a quarter of all Pell grants awarded.

And, surprise — their graduates or former students make up about 44 percent of all student loan defaults.

In addition, tuition at for-profit colleges and universities is often more expensive than at public (and often private) not-for-profit counterparts for the same degree, especially in certification and associate programs.

In other words, students are shelling out more and often getting less. This makes the ever-present cheapskate within me very upset.

I don’t have a problem with competition based on the provision of the highest quality education possible; even turning a profit on the education of students is not inherently bad.

However, the disturbing trend of glorified “diploma mills” that make false claims in advertising and recruitment and often do not prepare their students adequately for gainful employment is an issue that is costing our government billions and cheating millions of people out of their money and educational potential.

Part of the problem may be that traditional colleges and universities have failed to embrace the power of technology and online learning to the full extent that for-profit ones have.

Because our country’s college students now struggle with full-time jobs, children and other responsibilities, it’s increasingly difficult for many people seeking degrees to physically take a class in a classroom setting.

It may be that older learners are turning to for-profit schools out of necessity rather than choice.

After all, who wants a set class period rather than logging onto “class” in pajamas?
Despite pundit rumblings that our entire educational system is terrible, the United States still has a diverse range of colleges and universities that is the envy of the world.

With all the innovation that occurs within these schools every year, one would think that we could find a way to scale up public institutions (including both traditional four-year programs and community colleges) to serve the growing ranks of students of all types.
If there were no niche for predatory for-profit schools to fill, they wouldn’t exist.

When I see a truly innovative institution that is competitive on the bases of both cost and quality, I won’t be so skeptical of for-profit learning.

Until then, I simply say this: vote with your wallet, and demand that your lawmakers work to stop the flow of money to these largely corrupt and ineffective institutions.



E-mail: biglehar@indiana.edu

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