Ripped off by the for-profit education fraud

October 11, 2016

Veronica Popp, an organizer for the United Academics campaign, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, discusses the for-profit college scam.

A FRIEND asked me my thoughts on applying for college. I encouraged him. A week later, he told me he'd been accepted.

What school would accept someone so quickly? A for-profit one, because my friend is attending on a GI Bill. When I told him the many issues with for-profit education he said, "It's my best opportunity."

The for-profit degree, in essence, becomes students "one shot" to succeed. The working poor are often touted to believe in the Protestant work ethic model. Yet pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps is impossible when corporate cronies are defrauding honest and hardworking students, specifically students of color, like my friend.

Manipulating already marginalized groups of people is shameful. On average, 55 percent of students who attend many of these schools drop out within a year. I wish my friend well, but I cannot say the same for the school.

The closure of ITT Technical Institute is only the first step in destroying the business model of for-profit education.

Don't mistake me; the corporatization of higher education is an interconnected issue, but not the root cause. The Department of Education has failed us; we will pay nearly $500 million due to big business. Taxpayers are already footing the bill for the failure of Corinthian College.

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Close the loopholes and find every way to censure for-profit schools for being out of compliance. If not, taxpayers will continue to line the pockets of industry.

THE FIRST step is to levy massive fines on colleges that misappropriate the name of non-profit colleges for monetary gain. Call it the fraud it is.

For example, Northwestern College and Northwestern University. Which one is for-profit and which is non-profit? Northwestern College is a for-profit college and Northwestern University is nonprofit. Next, North Central College and North Central University. Got it? Think again. North Central College is nonprofit and North Central University is for-profit.

Imagine how confusing this is for students! It is an intentional bastardization mean to bait, switch and confuse the already misinformed.

The second step is to pass a federal legislation from for-profit colleges opening up their doors in proximity to their affordable community college counterparts. Similar to keeping sex offenders away from children, the law will allow a buffer away from the exploitation of the trusting.

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In my own experience, I taught at Triton College, a local community college in River Grove, a suburb of Chicago. Triton cost $5,000 for a transferrable Associates degree, compared to Everest, now closed, which cost $30,000. Everest College was located at 1101 West North Ave., and Triton College was located at 2000 Fifth Ave. A five-minute car ride--at triple the cost.

Again, this is a consistent choice of the for-profit education system to prey upon students unaware of nonprofit colleges. Students without the available access to resources such as reliable Internet service to view this information are exploited

The third and final step would be to suspend the use of GI Bill benefits in all for-profit institutions. All for-profit education would disappear to a minutia when this occurs.

The report titled, "For-profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success" provides damning evidence. Instead of shilling students, wasting and flushing the hard-earned GI Bill down the toilet, veterans will access nonprofit education that does not inflate tuition or use horrendous business practices such as enrolling veterans with brain injuries.

Readers, if you are considering a for-profit school due to flexibility, like my friend, do it the traditional way: attend community college.

Many nonprofit schools now offer distance learning. Putting degrees on a printing press and overburdening an already flooded market is immoral. When one out of every three dollars Americans borrow goes to paying for higher education, we need to begin mending our country by the termination of the first step of corporatization.

BEFORE I close, I wish to address adjuncts. As a recovering adjunct, I want to say the for-profit model is particularly cruel to them.

Part-time professors are overburdened, teaching canned courses and senseless syllabi, typically without the protection of academic freedom. Many adjunct professors prefer for-profits due to the smaller classes, increased autonomy and less prep time. In fact, the for-profit system is a place that needs dedicated teaching professionals, or those who see their teaching as a true calling. I have known many dedicated adjuncts who consider work at for-profit institutions as service.

Teachers have a vocation. They are not cogs in a machine churning out grades. Stop exploiting their calling. Berera College, a school charging no tuition, is ahead of the game and should be the model of higher education. I endorse the American Federation of Teachers position on for-profit education.

Social justice needs to return to college. Start by making a change and eliminating for-profit education for good.

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