I Teach At A For-Profit College: 5 Ridiculous Realities
For-profit colleges, aka colleges that operate for a profit, aka the only schools that buy pop-up ads, are a $30 billion industry, with millions of students nationwide. But much like that guy in high school with the bitchin' mullet and radical IROC, just because they're popular doesn't mean they have the best reputation. We wanted to know how accurate that rep really is, so we sat down with "Stephen," a former professor at one such college in Ohio. He told us ...
There Is Zero Teaching Experience Required To Be A "Professor"
Most teachers come equipped with a boxful of degrees, permits, certifications, and other fancy framed papers to confirm they're trained educators and not, say, urine-soaked knife-wielding hobos. Not so with Steve's school: "At my campus, I'd say that nine out of every ten professors don't have an educational background."
He was sure to point out that sometimes this led to great teachers, like the former hotel manager who became a professor of Hospitality Management: "He was honest about complaints, nipping lice infestations in the bud, and tons of other terrible things normal HM classes barely cover." But that's not a universal truth.
"Like, they may be an accountant during the day, but they moonlight teaching that at schools like mine ... those teachers could be really good ... But most had no idea how to teach. I sat in on a class going through economics, and ... the 'professor's' laptop gave the blue screen of death. He was a nice guy in his late 20s, and he immediately panicked." Since the students were paying dearly for that professor's time, they kept right on asking questions, like "What's the difference between macro and micro economics?" Steve recalled, "He had a deer in the headlights look and he froze for 15 seconds. Finally, he said 'Macro is big economies and Micro is individual economies. Like Bill Gates' economy.'"
Those of you who know a little bit about economics might recognize that as complete fucking gibberish. Eventually, Steve and another teacher listening in had to call him out on his bullshit and give the class some proper answers, but, "When we gave the right definitions and answers to everything, he defended his answers as being correct. He was fired the next day."
Once he'd started telling shitty teacher stories, Steve couldn't stop. He told us about an accounting teacher in his 70s who told students "any math you couldn't do by hand wasn't worth teaching." Another particularly enterprising educator gave out a two-week assignment to "have his students do his and his family's taxes, giving bonus points to the ones who had found the way to have them owe the least." Steve added, "He lasted three semesters."
They Target Poor Minority Students And Con Them Into Taking Loans
For-profit colleges promise students who didn't do well in high school a chance at a real college degree for far less than fancy university prices. And since everyone gets in, your past doesn't matter. ITT Tech will take any breathing human being who applies. It's like the Little League of higher education, minus the Capri Sun at the end of every session.
These colleges sell themselves as a "way out" of poverty and desperation to people who are poor and directionless. Ninety-six percent of ALL for-profit students take out loans, compared to 57 percent of those at normal public college. And while the average college student only has an 8 percent chance of defaulting on their loan in the first few years, for-profit students have a 25 percent chance.
It should come as no surprise that investigations have shown that many for-profits do in fact target low-income people who can't pay. These people are often minorities. One investigation turned up the training manual for recruiters at the for-profit college Vatterott, including a list of ideal types of people to recruit:
Steve noticed the same thing at his school: "Most of my students made minimum wage, and over half were black. Every one of my students had a loan, and it's all they ever talked about. Some felt strong-armed into them, but some wanted them. They lived off of them. They wanted the loans as another source of income because they couldn't make ends meet with their regular jobs. They took a few classes to keep up appearances, but I would always know why they were really there. Every college has these students, but at my college, I had several in every class I taught. I never knew what happened to them after the semester and they were 20 or 40 grand in debt. Many struggled to make ends meet, and the college offered an easy way to get loans. What did you think was going to happen?"
For-profit universities vastly prefer loans -- and the long-term, interest-bearing income they generate -- to straight cash payments. So much so that they often don't take cash: "One student in particular told me that she had $20,000 from an inheritance in cash, but ran into roadblocks everywhere. My college wouldn't accept cash, so she tried a check. They told her they couldn't, since they had too many issues with bounced checks. She then tried paying online in full, but she was told she shouldn't because 'What if you decide to drop a class? Would you still want to pay for it?' She then tried monthly payments, but she was informed she was too late to sign up. She could only take a loan."
Schools like the University of Phoenix depend on student loans to survive. In fact, the latter actively instructs their "Phoenixes" to borrow the max amount. And how could that possibly backfire? For-profit universities are one of the major causes of the current student loan debt crisis. So if you're a New Yorker who had your daily commute fucked up by Occupy Wall Street, you can blame like half of that on the Participation Trophy of colleges.
They Cost More To Attend Than Conventional Universities
For-profit colleges advertise themselves as much more affordable than traditional universities. According to the ads, a for-profit college is the Costco of higher education: great quality without any unnecessary frills, for the budget-conscious consumer.
Why, you save so much money on these programs that it'd be almost insane to get your degree anywhere else.
Surprise! That's all crap. These schools are filled with more hidden fees than a bank run by ninjas. Here's Steve: "A close family member was deciding on a cheap starter college. She was looking at my college and Cincinnati State. Honestly, I just started at my school and I didn't know what the full cost was. I asked and got a quote for $9,000 a semester ... When I gave her the written quote, she looked right back up and said, 'I could get a degree from Cincinnati State for that much.' I was floored."
Two years at a community college costs, on average, $8,300. Four years at a state college? $52,000. But at a for-profit, that Associate's Degree is now $35,000. The Bachelors? $63,000. It's like deciding to eat out at Olive Garden instead of that fancy French restaurant, only to discover that the bread sticks are the price of a used Toyota.
Steve explained: "All normal colleges show how much a semester is, or give a price by class. At ours, they made it look cheap by giving price for each credit hour. So many of my students were suckered in this way. They saw the $550 cost per hour ... and they assumed that meant $550 per credit."
Oops! Silly desperate students seeking to better their lives. You assumed "for-profit college" meant something besides "a shell game in which you gamble your paycheck for decades to come."
A Degree All But Guarantees You WON'T Get A Job
All for-profit colleges essentially promise you your dream job, falling just short of issuing IOUs for personal oral sex bots upon graduation. The word of the day, kids, is "bullshit." It was revealed last year that the $75,000 three-year criminal justice degree offered by Westwood College comes with a 3.8 percent job placement rate. And most of those "jobs" are as some sort of security guard, aka the job literally any breathing human can get.
A school like the recently shut down Heald College, or DeVry, can famously claim 90-percent-plus job placement rates, which sounds super impressive ... if you don't know that the FTC is currently suing them for classifying a business major getting hired as a waiter to be an "in-field" placement. Or counting a job at Taco Bell as successful placement. Steve gave a shit about his students and did his best to prepare them for careers as accountants, "but most didn't become accountants. We had to go off of curriculum, and while many of us got through that as fast as we could with our students to tell them what they really needed to know, we often didn't have time."
Steve explained how his college practically went out of its way to make their courses useless: "Normal colleges give you a mix of course work, field work, and other assignments, slowly making it more and more real world. Once you get the basics, you learn the programs, you see what employers want, and you expand your knowledge. For-profits are like standardized tests. You get the basics, but almost none of it can be applied once in the real world."
The evidence shows that graduates from for-profits make less and are less happy about their prospects than those from larger colleges. This jives with Steve's experiences: "I've met several graduates, and nearly all didn't get the jobs they wanted. A few thought they were going to be teachers in a few years, and I found them working as subs. One student who said he wanted to run a hotel I met by chance at a hotel in Columbus, where he was only a part-time assistant manager at a Microtel taking classes for ANOTHER degree at the University of Phoenix at night."
So uh ... clearly, that guy doesn't learn lessons easily.
The conventional logic is that any degree is better than no degree. But that may not be true with for-profit colleges. A Harvard study found that such students are 22 percent less likely to get a callback from a job than an otherwise-identical resume that named a public university. And it's even worse with an online degree. Even if these students do find work, high school dropouts tend to earn more than for-profit degreers in the same field.
For-Profit Colleges Are In Big Trouble
Over the last year or so, the hammer has started coming down on for-profit schools. Steve explained: "Obama had been threatening for years to do something about for-profit colleges, but no one believed he would go through with it. In early 2015, it was apparent he was trying to do something, and we got emails everyday. Most were telling us not to worry, but we also had emails that said 'We're as strong as ever!' I worked there for three years, and the only emails they had sent me was pay stub receipts, password expiration reminders, and the odd departmental email ... these emails really showed how worried they were."
This finally prompted Steve to make a career change of his own. He found another job and gave his resignation to his department head, who "begged me to stay. He didn't try to flatter me or say how much they needed me or anything you would expect to hear. It was, 'I know you're worried about this Obama law (I wasn't), and we're worried too, but it will all be OK.' Everyone was acting like the apocalypse was coming."
And what terrifying new law change had everybody soiling their chinos? To quote CNN:
"The new set of rules, called the gainful employment regulations, require colleges to track their graduates' debt and employment to prove that their programs don't fall short of federal guidelines. Institutions now have to provide information on program costs, how much students earn after they graduate and how much debt they could accumulate."
The new law also set limits on how much the schools could charge for loan payments (no more than 20 percent of a student's income). Despite how reasonable those restrictions sound, it was essentially the apocalypse for educational conmen. Roughly 1,400 programs serving 840,000 students were estimated to fall below those minimal standards. The University of Phoenix lost half its students. DeVry is currently being sued by the FTC for false advertising.
Steve was not bummed out at all by this. He still feels some guilt for being involved in the whole thing to start with: "One student I had told me that he knew he was being had. I started to say he wasn't, but he told me to shut up. He told me he went $25,000 into debt for a degree no one took seriously. He had a family, and I got the sense he was doing this for them ... He told me to go fuck myself and proceeded to tell a few other professors too. We never saw him again after that. I'm hoping, really hoping, that the new laws will make degrees for people like him from for-profits actually worth it."
We hope so too, for the students' sake, but we can't imagine a future in which a prospective employer looks at your resume and says, "Whoa, University of Phoenix, huh? Don't you think you might be overqualified?" Well, not with a straight face, anyway.
If you were misled by a for-profit college, please protect other students by letting the authorities know. If you decided to attend a school because of a misleading ad or deceptive recruiting, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
If you took out a private loan (not including federal student loans) to finance your education, you can also complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If you are a veteran or service member who was deceived by a college, and you used the GI Bill or other VA programs to fund your education, please report it to the Department of Veterans Affairs' new complaint system. The folks at Veterans Education Success would also like to hear from you, and can connect you with pro-bono attorneys, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and generally advocate on your behalf to the VA.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, writer, and interview-finder guy for the personal experience team at Cracked. Have an awesome experience/job you would like to share? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org today!
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