With Trump and DeVos, For-Profits’ Future Looks Bright

looks bright

I just got off the phone with administrators from Bethune-Cookman University, the historically black college in Daytona Beach, Florida. We talked about, among other things, the post I’d written in response to a New York Times article that criticizes Bethune-Cookman’s affiliation with a for-profit law school. Since talking with Bethune-Cookman leadership, I’ve decided to look more closely into the situation.

But, let me say this clearly, first: For-profit colleges and graduate schools, including law schools, are—for the vast majority of people—an unmitigated disaster. Stay away from them like the plague—even if they offer you a full ride. Their degrees are worthless in the marketplace, as studies have shown.

However, they are making some people very wealthy. So, if you want to help the 1% and put yourself in debt, attending a for-profit is definitely the way to go.


Trump of Trump University


Now that Trump is in the White House, for-profits may be seeing their time in the sun again. After all, Trump had his own predatory for-profit, Trump University, which bilked students out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before moving to Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump settled out of court to the tune of $25 million. “The suits accused Trump U. of deceiving students by falsely claiming that Trump knew the instructors and that the school was an accredited university,” reports Politico.

Not that accreditation necessarily means that much, even in the nonprofit world, or furthermore, the for-profit world. Yet, with Trump in office and Betsy DeVos hiring officials from the for-profit sector (see below), things are looking very bright, indeed, for these institutions, but not very bright for any who would fall for their false promises, aggressive sales pitches, and amoral manipulations.

I’ve excerpted an opinion piece from the New York Times, titled Predator Colleges May Thrive Againbelow:

Congress has tried since the 1940s to curb predatory for-profit schools that survive almost solely on federal money while they saddle students with crushing loans for useless degrees. As the industry’s scandals grew and its role in the student debt crisis became more excessive, the Obama administration established rules that could get the worst of these programs off the federal dole. But the Education Department under its new secretary, Betsy DeVos, seems ready to undermine those regulations and let predatory schools flourish once again.

The department has hired two high-level officials from the for-profit sector — one of whom has since resigned. The other is from a school, under state and federal investigation, that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined last year for duping students into taking out costly private loans.

Read more at the New York Times.

Education Matters: Don’t Even Think About Going to a For-Profit College


The young woman stepped up to the microphone, eager to ask her question.

The BE Smart panel at this year’s Women of Power Summit in Hollywood, Florida, had just ended. We’d heard great speakers, like Pamela Mitchell of the Reinvention Institute, expound on the value of executive education and the difference executive credentials can make in a woman’s career.

Now it was time for questions from the audience. The young woman cleared her throat. “I worked hard for my degree,” she began, “but I went to a for-profit college. Now can’t get anyone to hire me.”

My heart sank upon hearing her words. No one on the panel had endorsed pursuing credentials from a for-profit; the young woman simply wondered if a legitimate credential on top of her for-profit degree could help her get hired.

For-profits Are a Disaster


There is so much information online about for-profit colleges—with names like Corinthian (now defunct), DeVry, ITT Tech, the University of Phoenix—and none of it is good. Still, it’s not unusual to hear some earnest person say that they are attending a for-profit school.

Yet, these schools are basically legal scams. For-profit schools are not an option, unless you are looking to go into debt, waste your time, lower your chances of graduating, or increase your chances of graduating with a degree that has little to no value in the labor market, as the unhappy young woman at the Women of Power Summit discovered and that studies have proven again and again.

For-profits exploit the ambition and honest aspirations of low-income people, who are often poorly educated. They prey on communities of color, on the poor, and on the poorly informed. They prey on veterans, even to the point of opening outposts of their institutions near military bases.

A Slate article quoted Mike DiGiacomo, a U.S. Army veteran now weighed down by nearly $90,000 in student loan debt after attending two for-profit schools, “These aren’t colleges. They’re debt factories. They’re the slumlords of the college world.”

What to Do Now


Spread the word and stop the madness. The ads you see in the subway and on TV are lies. No one should go to a for-profit school, and the U.S. Department of Education knows it.

If you’re already in debt, ask your loan servicers about income-driven repayment plans, which are woefully underutilized (only 12.5% of federal loan borrowers have signed up for them). Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to pay $0 and still keep your loan current.

But if you have been defrauded—that is, lied to and misled—by your institution, contact your state attorney general and explain your situation. Students who attended Corinthian College can apply to have their student loans discharged, since they had been defrauded by the for-profit behemoth. Push to have your loans discharged too.

Don’t trust any for-profit school, unless it can prove a track record of providing an honest education to real people who went on to enjoy a professional future with degrees that were respected. I’m sorry to say this, but you won’t find one.

Should HBCUs Link Arms with For-Profit Colleges?

(Image: File)

Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund which provides funding to public historically black colleges, has created a program that links HBCUs to the for-profit University of Phoenix. Although response on the part of HBCU administrators has been tepid, some are taking the bait. Is this a good idea?

Here’s the view from BuzzFeed:

The height of the for-profit college boom, which began in 2004, came with a boom in black enrollment. According to the website Colorlines, the number of black students signing up at for-profits jumped 218% from 2004 to 2009, compared to just 46% for all students. By 2009, the for-profit University of Phoenix, a pioneer of online education, was the country’s largest educator of black bachelor’s degree students; the second largest was Ashford University, a for-profit that offers its classes exclusively online.

This rise affected another major educator of black students: historically black colleges and universities. The five largest for-profit colleges, which operate almost entirely online, enrolled some 275,000 black students in 2013, out of a total of 877,000 enrollees. In the same year, the country’s 106 HBCUs enrolled 311,000 students.

Now, amidst a push by one of the largest benefactors of historically black colleges, the country’s HBCUs are beginning to figure out how they fit into an online space once dominated by for-profit colleges. They are struggling, too, with the question of what an online education at a black college looks like.

“Generally speaking, HBCUs, especially public HBCUs, are behind the curve on this one,” said Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports most of the country’s public HBCUs.

Taylor believes that building online programs is a matter of dire urgency, and even survival, for historically black schools. They need online programs to compete with majority white institutions for the older, nontraditional students that tend to be attracted to online programs. And they need to be able to serve the students they already have—many historically black schools, because of their size, cannot afford to offer niche classes like languages and high-level technical courses, both of which have done well as online programs.

Read more at BuzzFeed.

Sleazy For-profit Colleges Disproportionately Target Students of Color

Kamala Harris, California Attorney General (Image: Twitter)

An absolute must-read article from American Prospect , excerpted below, details the tawdry history of for-profit colleges and how the federal government has made possible their so-called business model.

Included with the post is a photo of California Attorney General Kamala Harris (shown at left) near a board that describes the target market of a for-profit college: The school sought out “‘isolated,’ ‘impatient’ individuals with ‘low self-esteem,’ who have ‘few people in their lives who care about them’ and who are ‘stuck’ and ‘unable to see and plan well for the future.’”

[Related: President Obama Delivers Commencement Address at South Dakota Community College]

More of a scam than a business, these so-called schools spend thousands of dollars advertising in low-income communities of color, and even open schools near such communities. Less than half of their students graduate, including 65% of their black students (from four-year, for-profit programs); “for-profit colleges enroll about one in 10 American college students, but make up around half of all student loan defaults,” according to American Prospect, which colorfully describes the average for-profit student’s loan debt as “a low-value debt bomb.” But who’s providing all this money for students to borrow? The federal government is aiding and abetting average student debt for graduates at for-profit four-year colleges of “nearly $40,000, nearly $15,000 more than graduates at public four-year colleges, and over $6,000 more than graduates at historically black colleges and universities.”

This must-read post goes on to say that, astoundingly, for-profit colleges have divided the civil rights community. Steve Harvey and civil rights activist Al Sharpton (how much more obvious could they be in their marketing to black folks?) have been hired as spokesmen for these so-called schools. I mean, if Steve Harvey and Al Sharpton say it’s OK, it’s OK. Right?

Are for-profits meeting a need in the black community, or are they just another way to exploit the poor and poorly informed, and saddle them with onerous debt? Do you have friends or family members who have attended for-profits? Do they have any regrets or are they happy with their experience? Read the excerpt below, read the piece at American Prospect, and then come back to add your comments.

“On April 26, an institution of higher education that as recently as 2010 employed more than 6,000 faculty members and another 4,000 in support staff announced that it would close its doors. Corinthian Colleges had enrolled more students than the Ohio State University and the University of Texas at Austin combined. For the giant for-profit chain founded just 20 years ago, the fall from grace was aided by lawsuits from several state attorneys general and the federal government, and investigations by the SEC. These found a broad pattern of deception in recruiting students, bogus reporting of job placement data, and a strategy of combining high tuition and debt levels with a substandard educational product.”

“Corinthian’s story is a microcosm of the for-profit college sector over a period of three decades, a story dotted by aggressive corporate expansion and creative evasion of federal oversight. On June 8, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced debt relief for some 40,000 former Corinthian students, who collectively owed more than half a billion dollars, and a relief application process for as many as 300,000 more. “You’d have to be made of stone not to feel for these students,” said Duncan. ‘This has to be a wake-up call to Congress.’”

“In the publicity about the government’s belated crackdown on the for-profit education industry, one key fact has not gotten sufficient attention: The students targeted and affected most by fraudulent operators are disproportionately black. The story of predatory for-profit colleges is not unlike that of subprime lending or the proliferation of payday loans. Wider economic unease was used by the cynical to bring further distress to people of color.”

“What made possible the for-profit higher education business model was the pot of federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, student loans, and G.I. Bill benefits—combined with inadequate federal oversight.”

Read more at American Prospect, then come back to add your comments.