This another story about online education, and how it's sometimes sometimes portrayed.  In this case, it is connected with a new set of regulations on the industry proposed by the federal Department of Education.


DOE Rules on For-Profit Schools Written With Investor's Help


As with so many others on for-profit online higher education, it shows a misunderstanding of the industry.  Granted, there are plenty of stories about schools indulging in deceptive marketing and hard-sell tactics; I personally witnessed some of that while a temp at a Pittsburgh-based educational corporation, and I'm surprised that it didn't complete repulse me for life.  The students were often exploited, and the way that the "Assistant Directors of Admissions" were driven to sell, sell, sell, no matter what, was a classic boiler room operation.


So I'm not an uncritical member of the field.  Rather, I'm ready to admit the mistakes made by some companies that make it hard for the rest of us, and in the process give a bad, over-sold product to trusting students.  Then those students are driven to financial ruin trying to pay off the loans taken for a degree of poor quality.


Fortunately I don't work at one of those schools.  If I did, it wouldn't be for long.


As the story from Fox News illustrates though, not all efforts to stem the abuses of the bad operators are based in altruism, or concern for the students.  The allegations presented here are at least as troubling as those against the online schools with poor practices, if not worse.  Together, they represent an attempt to employ the regulatory power of the federal government to make one man, and his clients, even richer, while dealing a crippling blow to an entire industry, including the institutions that employ better practices.  It is market manipulation, indeed exploitation, of the worst sort.


The law suit alleging abuses by the FrontPoint Financial Services Fund are leveled by CREW, or Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  It is definitely worth researching further, and seeing how this plays out in the courts and in the executive branch.

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I work for that Pittsburgh-based educational corporation, teaching at The Art Institute of California: Orange County, and have been for nigh on to nine years now. And, while I find the sales force / recruiters no better or worse than those for the US Armed Forces (God Bless them) or those who sell cars or real estate, it is my task to see that they get a degree worth what they pay for it. My program, and my school, is NOT a "diploma mill" (our California State University system is much closer to that pejorative description).


That said, and having followed this whole dust-up over "gainful employment" for some time now, it really does remind me of a which hunt. They 3 (yes, only 3) people to appear before the government committee hearings on this matter of "for profit education" consisted of this make-me-rich hedge fund guy, a legendary disgruntled student who went back to making better money as a stripper, and another vocal detractor of for-profit education. And now that Big Government has seized all the ability to make student loans, they can declare the winners and losers in education and quash all competition and innovation, which it seems clear that this is an exercise of that power.


Standards are great, as long as the playing field is level and all must strive to achieve them. Currently, they're looking at a starting salary vs. student loan debt over 10 years as the yardstick by which your education can be measured. Not 100% reflective of reality (some go to college for personal enrichment, and how many people who major in African Studies or Social Anthropology actually get a job in that field when they graduate?), but at least it's metric and we can make some comparisons.


They're trying to beat for-profit education over the head with this standard (because starting cooks, game developers, interior designers, etc. start at such low pay), but do NOT hold traditional and state-run colleges to it. If you apply that same metric to say, Harvard Medical School, those graduates are so buried under in debt and make so little during their first years doctoring, that it would be the first school on the list closed down under this Big Government metric.


But with this government using it increasingly centralized power to pick the winners and losers, innovative and competitive education is doomed to be tramped under by the failed unionized education establishment that props up the current administration. That article was certainly right when it speculated that, if this were the other way around, and a Republican administration was going after these for-profit school who service society's non-elites (almost every student I teach comes from quite modest circumstances and, in my opinion, often would not have made it through a traditional college), there would be howls of outrage from the left. Of course, with the left in charge of this witch hunt, you don't see that now.


Alan Emrich

Hi Alan,

You're right on how the same standards should be applied, and that the traditional schools sell really unmarketable degrees.  That's a silent scandal, as is the rising cost of getting those degrees and the debt load that graduates bear.  I further agree about the social engineering aspect of regulation, and choosing the deserving winners and the deserving losers, as though every day at Government House has to be Judgment Day for somebody.


Most of my students are from modest circumstances too; for some, the only reason they can go to school at all is through the military.  They're also the ones who can't afford to move to a city with a traditional campus, and in many cases are deployed overseas, making it physically impossible.  In addition, my students appear to have a higher proportion of women and minorities than most schools, including the community college where I taught for a couple of years, so if diversity and equal opportunity are goals worth pursuing, then this is it.


If the boiler room operation that I saw is no better and no worse though than what much of the industry offers, then we're in some trouble.  I saw sales people, usually younger folks in their twenties, pressured into telling students that they could make a huge ton of money out of the gate as game developers or commercial artists, and for one day I was making some of the set-up calls myself (that didn't last long, less than a day).  A part of the sales pitch too was to ignore that the potential customer had little chance of completing the program, either due to lack of qualifications or talent, or dire financial straits. 


If there is one thing that should be changed, by the industry ideally and not the government, it's the use of commission-based sales forces, as it is fertile ground for horror stories about the industry.  That, from what I saw first-hand, is the real Achilles heel, encouraging abuses beyond that I saw any place, and I used to sell  insurance.  Change that, and the public image and regulatory environment will improve.


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