The problem with for-profit education

Being a project that is centered around the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, naturally we have an interest with seeing new online tools emerge for education. We think their is a role — perhaps a very strong one — for online education. Jeremy is not only teaching his students about the Web and how it can further journalism, he is also using online tools to teach them.

But we support education, not the monstrosities that most for-profit educational systems have become:

Management handed down revamped telemarketing scripts designed to prey on poor and uneducated consumers, honing in on their past mistakes in life as a ploy to convince them that college would solve all their problems, according to conversations with more than a dozen current and former Education Management Corp. employees over the past two months.

“You’d probe to find a weakness,” said Brian Klein, a former admissions employee who worked for three years at Argosy University Online, one of four major colleges operated by EDMC. “You basically take all that failure and all those bad decisions, and you spin it around and put it right back in their face as guilt, to go to this shitty university and run up all of this debt.”

Just as the subprime mortgage bubble was giving way to a bust that would help trigger a devastating financial crisis, Goldman Sachs, a firm that had been at the center of Wall Street’s rampant mortgage speculation, found its way to a new area of explosive growth: In claiming what would eventually become a 41 percent stake in Education Management Corp., Goldman secured itself a means of tapping into the boom in for-profit higher education. The federal government was boosting aid to college students nationwide, just as a declining economy prompted millions of Americans to seek refuge in higher education, leading to dramatically expanding enrollments at many institutions.

This piece is a fascinating read, and shows The Huffington Post at its finest, doing real, important journalism. Journalism that many organizations have forgotten.

Hopefully the pitfalls of for-profit education won’t turn people away from good online tools that enhance learning.


Episode 16: Honor Steve Jobs by learning something new, something outside your comfort zone

We dedicate this week’s episode to Steve Jobs, but rather than send up his life’s work, which we already did after he retired, we decided to salute Steve Jobs’s legacy of thinking different and of learning new skills.

This episode looks at education and how school almost beat the creativity out of him. This episode also encourages students to look outside their majors, to take random classes and to experiment.

The original Macintosh and personal computers owe their great typography to Steve Jobs randomly taking a calligraphy class (or rather dropping into it). Steve was a life-long student. While Steve Jobs may be best known for founding a great tech company, his appreciation for design and the liberal arts really helped move the industry forward and helped make computers more personal.

More journalists should learn about technology and computer science. More engineers should learn more about the arts and writing. We could all stand to know more than just our majors and careers.

What made Steve Job great was not that he was the world’s best designer or engineer, but rather that he could get people to put it all together. He understood at least a little bit of everything that Apple did. That allowed him to get designers, hardware engineers and software developers to work together to create products that were a cut above competitors.

Perhaps the best way to honor Steve Jobs is to learn something new. Go ahead, go outside your comfort zone. Think different.

Listen to this week’s episode:


Show notes:

Does for-profit education work?

I found this to be particularly thought provoking:

The Senate committee found an average dropout rate of 57 percent within two years of enrollment at 16 unnamed for-profit schools. More than 95 percent of students at two-year proprietary schools, and 93 percent at four-year schools, took out student loans in 2007, the committee found. That compares to fewer than 17 percent of community college students and 44.3 percent of students at four-year public schools. Students at for-profit schools also account for nearly half of all student loan defaults, the committee found.

“Some for-profit schools are efficient government subsidy collectors first and educational institutions second,” the committee concluded in its report.

Will we see the unbundling of university educations in the 21st century?

Clay Shirky’s latest piece on the unbundling of journalism (no longer putting disparate pieces of content and subjects together to sell ads), has spurred an equally thought provoking piece on unbundling university educations:

Teaching accounting courses in order to take money from state legislatures and businesses and give it to the humanities department never made much sense.

Majors that prepare students for specific jobs and careers are like the sports section. They put students in the seats. States and businesses want strong economies, so they are willing to subsidize students’ educations, in a variety of ways. Universities use part of the money to support higher-minded educational goals, such as the liberal arts. Everyone is happy.

Well, they were in the 20th century.

The disruptive influence of the Internet and economic issues, particularly the lack of state funding for state schools and the rapidly rising cost of higher education, are leading the way towards a higher education revolution. What will it look like? Far too early to tell.

The fear that I and many have is that higher education is swinging far too much towards trade school with a focus on getting a job today, instead of teaching a person how to be a lifetime student, critical thinker and an active participant in society and democracy. There are many issues with higher education being focused too much on specific careers. First, we can’t predict what quantity of jobs we’ll need in five years, let alone 50. The entire point of a traditional liberal arts education is to further educate someone and give that person the tools for additional inquiry. A traditional liberal arts education is supposed to be the beginning of your education, not the end.

With a strong traditional liberal arts background, a person would not only have strong critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills, but they would also be adept at philosophy, math, science, English, music, etc. I keep saying traditional liberal arts education, because most liberal arts majors do not receive a traditional liberal arts education that would provide this foundation.

Math majors are allowed to get by taking mostly math classes. English students take mostly English classes. A true liberal arts education challenges a student in a variety of topics, so that even if you graduated with an English degree, you would have a good understanding of topics such as logic, math (at least calculus and statistics), several sciences and the scientific method, philosophy, economics and even music or some kind of art.

Jeremy and I will be talking a lot more about education on future episodes of the podcast, particularly higher education, online learning and new ways of learning information such as Wikipedia, Academic Earththe Khan Academy and Open Study. Perhaps the need for traditional educations is withering. I learn so much online today, and the Internet is humanity’s greatest warehouse of knowledge. It’s all there for the taking.

Or perhaps the Internet shows us how much more we need a good educational foundation to be able to judge the quality of sources. The Internet is full of sources of information, and there are no barriers to publishing information, regardless of the author’s merit. The real skill that people need is be able to tell which sources are worth trusting.