You Call This a University?

For-profit colleges have been on a decade long decline largely because they have oversold, overpromised, overcharged and seriously underdelivered. But even the worst of the for-profit colleges offered at least a whiff of an education program. You can’t even say that about Trump University. It wasn’t a university, it wasn’t a college, so maybe it shouldn’t even be called a for-profit college. It was simply a for-profit. 

Trump University logo

Trump U. opened in 2005 and lasted five years. It was 93% owned by Donald Trump, whose name was a key selling point. It offered “courses” in real estate, asset management, entrepreneurship and wealth creation. These courses were not unlike the sales tactics used to sell time-shares. Usually, the first one was free. Prospective students would be attracted to a webinar in a rented space, like a hotel ballroom, and once there they would learn that if they paid a lot more money they could dream of being a get-rich quick real estate investor.

The offerings started with a 3-day, $1,500 seminar. But to really get on the fast track, participants were pressured to buy up to higher level programs that varied from $10,000 to $35,000. According to a complaint filed by the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, “the contents and material presented by Trump University were developed in large part by a third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and seminar and timeshare rental companies.” Trump had little or no involvement, although students did get the opportunity to have a picture of themselves taken with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump.

A Trump U diploma

Here what some of the employees and students of Trump U. had to say about their experience: 

Ronald Schnackenberg was a former salesman for the ‘university.’ In his testimony in one of the suits brought against Trump, he said, “while Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could. Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

The New York Times reported on the testimony of a former Trump U. event manager Corrine Sommer.  “She said she was startled by the qualifications of some Trump University instructors. Ms. Sommer recalled that a member of the Trump University sales team, who had previously sold jewelry, was promoted to become an instructor. He had ‘no real estate experience,’ she said. She added that many of the instructors had the quality that the school seemed to value most: ‘They were skilled at high-pressure sales’.” 

The Guardian interviewed Kathleen Meese, a Trump University student and mother of a Down’s syndrome son, who was pressured into buying a Gold Elite plan.  ““I maxed out my credit card,” she said. “You were supposed to write yourself a check for $1m and tape it to your mirror, and in three years you would be able to cash it. I didn’t have three cents from them. I didn’t make a penny.”

Jeffrey Tufenkian, another former Trump University student, told CNBC , “When attorneys and other experienced real estate advisors raised red flags about the legality of techniques Trump University people were saying we should use, I knew we had been cheated.”

Both Richard Hewson and his wife were Trump U. students. In an affidavit he said “we had paid over $20,000 for nothing., based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the free seminar and three-day workshop. The whole thing was a scam.”

Regulators went after Trump U. from the very beginning. Already in 2005 the New York State Department of Education sent Trump a notice that his use of the word “university” was illegal. Eventually the name was changed to the Trump Entrepreneurial Institute, but that was near the end in 2010. That same year Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott began an investigation. No charges were ever filed, though, as Trump U. pulled out of Texas. (Trump himself would be back in 2014 as a major donor to Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign.)

Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative

When the ‘university’ folded in 2010, it was facing several legal actions. Tarla Makaoff, a former Trump University student who paid them $60,000, was the lead plaintiff in a class action suit for students in three states, California, Florida and New York, for violations of consumer protection laws in those states. A California businessman filed a class action suit in 2013 against Donald Trump the individual on behalf of consumers who bought “live events” from Trump University. The suit alleged violations of the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute stating that Trump University delivered “neither Donald Trump nor a university.” In the same year the State of New York filed a $40 million civil lawsuit charging illegal business practices and false claims.

In November of 2016, the month when Donald Trump was elected president by a minority of Americans, a $25 million settlement was announced. $21 million went as reinbursement for the plaintiffs in the two class action suits, $3 million was designated for New York residents who were not covered by the class actions and $1 million was a fine paid to New York State for the illegal use of the name “university.”

You call this a university? Pacific Standard, an online magazine published by the Social Justice Foundation, has some other suggestions: “If it’s called Trump University, what else can we call it besides a university? Try: business, enterprise, seminar, class, failure, place where people get pressured into paying tens of thousands of dollars to be taught how to flip houses by instructors who have no background in real estate and lie about having personally met Trump. There are a lot of options. Just don’t call it a university.”

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Sheltering in Place with Nature

Dog walking

In these times it’s hard to write about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic. I thought about a post that would elaborate on all the good things that have come from sheltering in place. I just couldn’t think of too many. It has made my dog happy. We’re pretty much home all the time and when we go out it’s usually to take him hiking in a park.

Garret Mountain trail

Then there’s the parks. Whether it’s national, state or local, the parks are full of people. Folks who otherwise might be consuming in a shopping mall or watching March Madness in a bar, are instead out enjoying nature, getting some fresh air and a little exercise.

I live in New Jersey where on Saturday the governor issued a stay at home order. Specifically exempted from that order, however, is outdoor recreation. The New Jersey state parks have remained open. Facilities, restrooms and historic buildings are closed and all events have been cancelled, but we’re free to enter and enjoy the parks. Locally, regulations vary. I live in Essex County which has closed its parks and reservations. But in neighboring Passaic County, they’re still open.

These photos are from Garrett Mountain Reservation in Passaic County.

Garret Mountain Trail
Garret Mountain Trail
Garret Mountain bird nest
Garret Mountain gazebo
Garret Mountain geese
fishing at Garret Mountain
Garret Mountain trail

Garret Mountain Reservation is on the First Watchung Mountain in the towns of Woodland Park, Clifton and Paterson, N.J. In addition to hiking trails and picnic areas, it has an equestrian center and a boathouse. It is a favored site for high school cross country meets.

Lambert Tower, which is located within the reservation, was built by the silk-magnate Lambert family, who lived in nearby Lambert Castle. The 70-foot tall observation tower, which sits atop a cliff overlooking the surrounding area, was built in 1896.

Lambert Tower
Garret Mountain drone zone
technology and nature together
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Let’s Social Distance and Quarantine Like It’s 1918

Between January 1918 and December 1920 the Spanish Flu pandemic infected some 500 million people worldwide, It is estimated that 27% of the world’s population got the illness. In the U.S. alone between 500,000 and 600,000 died. A look at the nation’s newspapers of that era gives us a hint at how Americans reacted to a worldwide pandemic 100 years ago.

We’ve all got news pushes on our phones in recent days that read a lot like this report in the Anadarko, Okla., American-Democrat (Oct. 19, 1918):

“Mayor Duncan, after a consultation with the physicians and board of education, decided, in view of the conditions brought about by the invasion of the Spanish influenza, that it would best conserve the public health if the schools and theatres, churches and other places of gatherings, be closed until the epidemic is checked or entirely wiped out. It is probable they will remain closed until the danger is past.”

closed church

Bars were apparently the last to go. That raised some eyebrows at a time when the temperance movement was growing in the U.S. The Akron (Ohio) Evening Time of Oct. 18, 1918, made note of that:

“Cigar stores, poolrooms, clubs and churches are rigidly obeying health orders on holding meetings. The feeling against permitting saloons to remain open is daily growing stronger since people cannot see the justice of permitting them to remain open when churches are forced to be closed.”

When a celebrity catches the illness it is news. In 2020, we’ve got Tom Hanks. In 1918, the Wilmington (Del.) Evening Journal (Oct. 17) reported even bigger news:

Babe Ruth

“George (Babe) Ruth, batting ace of the World’s Champion Boston Red Sox, is a sufferer with Spanish influenza at his home in Baltimore. At the close of the baseball season, Ruth accepted essential employment at the Lebanon plant of the Bethlehem Company, and became a member of the Lebanon team, Bethlehem Steel League. Called to Baltimore on a business mission, he fell a victim of the scourge. His condition is reported as not serious.”

Much as we hear today, there were concerns about the capacity of hospitals to handle the pandemic. The Daily Oklahoman on Oct. 11, 1918 expressed that:

“On account of the overcrowded conditions the management of several local hospitals have requested the residents of the city, whenever possible, to keep Spanish ‘flu’ victims in their own homes for treatment. Several serious emergency cases that have come up within the past few days have from necessity been turned away.”

hospital

Here’s a remedy that most of you probably haven’t tried. On Oct. 10, 1918 the Knoxville (Tenn.) Journal and Tribune offered this advice from “one of the city’s leading (albeit unnamed) physicians:”

“Let everybody once or twice daily eat a little dry sulphur, not drinking any fluid for an hour afterward. Sulphur is an age old, and simple antiseptic.

“For taking care of discharges from the nose and mouth, nothing is so good as tissue paper, which should be collected in paper bags and burned.”

The Enid (Okla.) Daily News on Oct. 3, 1918 had another suggestion. (This was not identified as an ad, maybe an early version of native advertising.)

“Wilcox’s Cherokee herbs will put you in fine condition to ward off this new epidemic. It takes the coat off the tongue, knocks that bad cold out of the system; sweetens the breath; relieves biliousness, making the liver active; and for a bloating, sour stomach it has no equal; it acts on the blood, liver, stomach and kidneys.”

The Spanish flu had its deniers as well. The Wichita (Kan.) Beacon on Oct. 8, 1918 published this report:

“A Wichita physician (unnamed) says that what is known as ‘Spanish Influenza’ is nothing more nor less than a severe cold. ‘The present epidemic of so-called Spanish Flu would have been called bad or severe colds thirty years ago and it was then properly named

‘The present trouble very likely would have passed unnoticed if the again new name of Spanish Flu had not been heralded to the people.’”

I think Rush Limbaugh said roughly the same thing. By the way, Spanish flu is believed to have originated in Kansas.

And while Trump initially dismissed the coronavirus as a Democratic hoax, the Logansport (Ind.) Pharos-Tribune of Dec. 18, 1918, seemed to imply that the Bolsheviks were behind the pandemic: 

“These pandemics are contemporary twins. Bolshevism is a mental malady just as Spanish Flu is a physical malady. These two, jointly and severally, have defied the wisdom of the wisest.

Bolsheviks

“Before either can be cured, the habitat, the fundamental cause, the breeding place, the condition which causes them must be located, cleansed and purified, and until this is done, Bolshevism will continue to send forth its mental miasma and Spanish Flu will pour forth its death dealing physical poison to trouble humanity.”

We have all read the stories of grass-roots capitalists looking to score a profit by hoarding disinfectant and other supplies. There were opportunists in 1918 as well. This so-called “personal ad” appeared in the Oct. 25, 1918 Spokane (Wash.) Chronicle:

The doctors have advised you
And told you what to do
In case you have the symptoms
Of the grippe or Spanish "flu"
You must avoid all kissing
And sneezing in the air.
But keep your hankie ready
For the microbes that you spare.
Before you get the Spanish "flu"
Remember you'll save more
On each fall SUIT, COAT, DRESS and HAT
At the Florence Upstairs Store,
300 to 328 Fernwell

While the pandemic in Italy has given rise to a lot of music, the American newspaper industry in 1918 seemed to turn to poetry.

This is an excerpt from a poem that appeared in the Greenville (S.C.) News on Nov. 23, 1918. There’s no mention of an author, but it was “edited by Tramp’s Alley.”

The Spanish flu has got us going
Oh what will happen next?
For the Infirmary we go 
on just a slight pretext
Of Spanish Flu, oh Spanish Flu
The nursie says "oh come on girls
And spray your nose," she says
And when I turned around again
There stood a germ by me
'Twas Spanish Flu, oh Spanish Flu
Oh, we are quarantined, I guess
For 'bout a million years
But if we don't get out of here
We'll burst right out in tears.

This poem appeared in the Knoxville (Ky.) Journal and Tribune on Oct. 13, 1918. It was written by Joe Bogle who is described as a “Knoxville negro.”

“Listen here, children,” said Deacon Brown,
There's something new just struck dis town;
And it's among the white and colored too,
And I think they all call it de Spanish Flu.
Dey say it starts right in the head;
You begin to sneeze and your eyes turn red.
You then have a tight feeling in your chest.
And you cough at night and you just can't rest;
Your head feels dizzy when you are on your feet;
You go to your table and you just can't eat.
And this ever happens to you,
You just say you got the Spanish flu.
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RIP Seward Johnson, Sculpture Larger Than Life

Seward Johnson

Seward Johnson: Sculptor, Painter, Public Artist

17-Ton Marilyn, Enormous Abe and a Pitchfork in the Sky

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All the Debt Without the Degree: A For-Profit College Case Study

In 2010 Corinthian Colleges had more than 100,000 students. There were 105 campuses and they produced revenue of $1.7 billion, most of it coming from federal student loans. It was one of the biggest educational organizations in the country. Its CEO, Jack Massimino, was flying high too, making some $3 million that year.

Five years later the jig was up. On April 26, 2015, NBC News reported: “In what’s believed to be the biggest shutdown in the history of higher education in the United States, Corinthian Colleges said Sunday it’s closing its remaining 28 for-profit schools effective immediately, kicking about 16,000 students out of school.”

The Corinthian story is one of a spectacular rise and even more spectacular fall, all in a space of 20 years. It went from nothing to one of the largest educational institutions in the country. Then it disintegrated amidst a dumpster fire of government investigations, student lawsuits and plummeting stock prices, selling off some units, closing the rest and filing for bankruptcy.

Heald_College

The idea for Corinthian Colleges started with a small group of executives at a non-profit trade school in Southern California, National Education Centers. They built a behemoth by acquiring other trade schools. They acquired Blair College, Florida Metropolitan University, Tampa College, Las Vegas College, the National Institute of Technology and more than 15 others. Corinthian operated under a number of brand names, including Everest College, Heald College and Wyntech. Programs were offered in the fields of health care, business, criminal justice, transportation technology and maintenance, construction trades, and IT.

By 1999 Corinthian floated an IPO. Along the way, it had attracted major investors including Wells Fargo, Goldman, Sachs and CALpers (California Public Employees’ Retirement System).

For private equity interests looking for a recession-proof investment, for-profit education seemed ideal. The recession of 2008 further fueled Corinthian’s growth. The Huff Post reported: “The fortunes of for-profit colleges tracked the Great Recession in reverse: Corinthian’s stock price more than doubled between March 2008 and February 2009, just as unemployment spiked; enrollment increased more than 50% between fall 2008 and fall 2010. Widespread layoffs left people scrambling to acquire additional skills to compete in an impossible job market. And Corinthian recruiters sold prospective students on a dream: graduating college and ascending into the middle class, with career training that would pay off.”

The sales tactics themselves were better suited to a fly-by-night used car lot than to a college. Reveal, the web site of the Center for Investigative Reporting, noted, “Many Corinthian admissions officers were former telemarketers, records show. The company regarded them as salespeople, a training manual emphasized; interactions with prospective students were focused not on finding an educational program that fits a student’s needs, but on ‘closing the sale.’

“When prospects expressed interest, recruiters moved aggressively to reel them in, with a barrage of boiler room-style phone calls and intense face-to-face contact.”

Corinthian promoted itself on the Internet, it ran telemarketing campaigns and TV ads on trashy talk shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. Their target was low income students who would easily qualify for federal assistance. The Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) stated in a lawsuit it filed against Corinthian that 35% of its students had incomes of less than $10,000.

While low-income students may have been the target, this did not equate to low-cost offerings. Everest College in Southern California charged $41,000 for an associate of science degree in paralegal studies. Neighboring Santa Ana Community College offered a substantially similar program for $2,400.

Ultimately they proved to be snake-oil salesmen, making promises their institution couldn’t keep. Annual dropout rates at some of the campuses were in the neighborhood of 60%. The CFPB lawsuit was one of more than 100 that were filed in federal courts against Corinthian. 

In 2013, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against Corinthian for false advertising and deceptive marketing targeting vulnerable students and for misrepresenting placement rates to prospective and current students. California won a $1.1 billion judgement against Corinthian but not until 2016 after the company had folded.

In 2014 the Department of Education fined Corinthian $30 million for misrepresenting placement rates for Heald College.

That same year the CFPB charged Corinthian with using illegal tactics to collect on the private loans that were marketed to students. Because federal regulations limited colleges from receiving more than 90% of their revenue from federal funds, Corinthian had created its own private loans, called Genesis loans, to make up the difference. The three-year default rate on these loans, which carried 14% interest, was 60%. The CFPB won a $531 million judgement, but again it was after Corinthian had disappeared.

In 2015, the Province of Ontario withdrew Corinthian’s operating licensing causing the company to close all of iits Canadian campuses.

By April of 2015, it was over. But not for the 16,000 students left hanging when their college closed almost literally between classes. Just about every one of them was paying for what would turn out to be a useless incomplete course of study with loans that they were still expected to pay back. Initially the Department of Education was sympathetic. The department issued a statement in March of 2016 stating “…students who were defrauded at 91 former Corinthian College Inc. campuses nationwide have a clear path to loan forgiveness under evidence uncovered by the department while working with multiple state attorneys general.” U.S. Education Secretary John B. King commented, “Corinthian was more worried about profits than about students lives.”

Betsy DeVos

Things changed for these students with the election of Donald Trump and his appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. USA Today in 2018 reported on a changed approach at the DeVos Department of Education: “After reviewing student loan borrower claims and other records, the department determined 51 Corinthian programs had met guidelines for instruction that leads to gainful employment, while six had failed. As a result, education officials in December established a new procedure that would vary the loan forgiveness percentage for former Corinthian students and similar borrowers.”

These changes landed DeVos in court. She lost. In a class-action lawsuit DeVos was found to be in contempt of court for continuing to illegally collect on loans made to Corinthian Colleges students. The Department of Education was fined $100,000.

Meanwhile the Securities and Exchange Commission was left to deal with Corinthian management. Los Angeles Times business writer Michael Hiltzik noted how that turned out: “Corinthian Colleges was a higher-education scam that defrauded tens of thousands of low-income students out of as much as $100 million in federally backed loans. Many are still struggling with the consequences because the Trump administration is refusing to grant them full relief from their student debt.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission just settled its lawsuit against Jack D. Massimino and Robert C. Owen, the leading perpetrators of this deception, for a pittance.

“The penalties imposed for their alleged violations of securities laws: $80,000 against Massimino and $20,000 against Owen. Neither had to admit wrongdoing and neither is barred from serving again as an officer or director of another publicly traded company.”

So these profiteers were fined less than what some of their student victims owed on their loans.

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Blame Ben Franklin: The History of For-Profit Colleges

Ben Franklin

The for-profit college industry is as old, if not older, than the United States. One of its first advocates was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin railed against what he called the “Latinists.” He was referring to the early U.S. academic institutions, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn among them. The “Latinist” curriculum was about Greek, Latin, Classic Literature and Philosophy. Franklin saw these studies as being of little use in a growing economy. 

So the pitch for the for-profit college in the 18th and 19th centuries was much the same as it is now: a practical education focused on business skills that lead to the kind of jobs that are in demand in the economy. I am reminded of a comment by Democratic Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar during one of the recent debates: “We aren’t going to need more MBA’s, we’re going to need more plumbers.”

Some of the earliest commercial schools were created by clergy. They made up a significant portion of the educated in colonial America. While they taught their students reading and writing, they also taught subjects like navigation and surveying. 

The first commercial enterprise that I found to use “college” in its name was Bartlett’s Commercial College, founded in 1834, by R. Montgomery Bartlett in Cincinnati. It was described as a “short-hand institute and practical business training school.”

Bartlett's Commercial College currency

The first real surge in growth of for-profit universities started in the middle of the 19th century. That was at the cusp of the U.S. economy shifting from an agrarian to an industrial society. A.J. Angula, author of Diploma Mills, a history of for-profit colleges, estimated that by the 1860’s there were 2,000 for-profit colleges enrolling 240,000 students. In 1873, the U.S. Commissioner of Education noted that while some of these commercial colleges were providing useful training, others were “purely business speculations.” 

Queen City Commercial College

One of those mid-19th century for-profits is still in business today. Founded in 1854, the Bryant  & Stratton Chain School was operating 50 schools by the 1860’s. Originally the school focused on bookkeeping and penmanship. Today Bryant & Stratten has 19 locations and a sizable online education division. In 2009 it held its graduation ceremony online on Second Life. 

Many for-profits only have federal accreditation which is less demanding than the regional accreditation that traditional colleges and universities have. Bryant & Stanton has regional accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. With its long history and its accreditation, one might expect Bryant & Stratten to provide a better experience than many non-profits. But I looked at the Department of Education’s College Scoreboard and found that to hardly be the case. Bryant & Stratten’s graduation rate is 24%. The average salary for Bryant & Stratten students after graduation is between $20,000 and $32,000 while the average indebtedness is between $12,000 and $50,000 depending on course of study.

I went to the Web site gradreports.com to look at the reviews of Bryant & Stratten by some of its graduates. Here are excerpts from the first three reviews I read:

  • “I do not understand how this ‘college’ is allowed to continue its operation. I came into the Nursing program after earning my Bachelor’s degree from a major university. I cannot believe that I fell for this scam.”
  • “I honestly don’t know how this school is still open. They should be shut down. Saying it’s horrible, a scam, unprofessional, an embarrassment, those words do not even touch on this school. DON’T even waste your time thinking about it.”
  • “The worst waste of time and money I ever spent for an education. Did not learn anything I could apply to a working environment. Left to go to a real college.”

Another 19th century for-profit college that is still in business is Strayer University. Founded in 1892 in Baltimore, Strayer catered to farmers who were looking for a new way to make a living in a changing economy. It offered instruction in areas like shorthand, typing and accounting. Like Bryant & Stratton, Strayer has regional accreditation.

Strayer Business College
Strayer Business College

Strayer later became a university and became Strayer Education, Inc., which went public in 1996. That resulted in a rapid period of growth, from 10,000 students in 1996 to 60,000 in 2000. It now has 76 campuses. It’s focus has shifted to technology services and its student body consists largely of working adults. Its enrollment pattern has followed that of for-profit colleges in general over the past two decades. By 2015 it had shrunk back to 43,000.

The outcomes for those students are all too familiar. I looked at the College Scoreboard stats for one of its campuses, in Morrisville, N.C. Of the 3,700 students who enrolled eight years ago, 44% dropped out, 36% transferred, 18% graduated and 1% are still enrolled. Eighty-four percent of its students received federal aid and the median indebtedness of its graduates ranged from $27,000 to $41,000. 

In the first half of the 20th century, for-profit colleges were on the decline. This was partly due to 1917 legislation, the Smith-Hughes Act, which provided funding for public vocational education. But just as for-profit colleges surged in the middle of the 19th century, the same was true in the middle of the 20th century. The end of World War II signaled a wave of prosperity in the U.S. And the educational benefits available through the GI Bill prompted a wave of entrepreneurs ready and willing to get hold of those benefits. The same phenomenon occurred thirty years later with the veterans returning from Vietnam. 

The Higher Education Act of 1965 expanded the use of student loans and Pell Grants, a healthy percentage of which went to for-profit colleges. 

The success and enormous growth of the University of Phoenix led to for-profit education becoming a hot ticket on Wall Street for a period of time. The University of Phoenix went public in 1994. It was seen as proof that for-profit education was a viable business that could provide a return on investment. Several others followed suit.

An infusion of private equity, the availability of federal student aid and veterans tuition benefits and online education all contributed to growth that peaked in 2010 when some 2.4 million students were enrolled in for-profit ventures. The combination of high dropout rates, poor outcomes in terms of post-graduate earnings ability, indebtedness, closed campuses and loan defaults caused that number to shrink almost as quickly as it grew. (See The For-Profit College Industry: Dropouts, Debt and Padlocked Doors.) The University of Phoenix alone had 470,000 students in 2010. It is now believed to have dropped under 100,000.

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The For-Profit College Industry: Dropouts, Debt and Padlocked Doors

The promise of the for-profit college is a no-frills, career focused path to a job that is available to all.  It might leave you with a certificate in areas like law enforcement, automotive technician, cosmetology, or video game design. There are no fraternities, performing arts centers or football teams. You don’t necessarily have to be on a campus and you may not need to follow a rigorous academic schedule. In fact you might never need to leave your room.

For-profit college student bodies skew older than traditional colleges and they are substantially more female. The average age of the for-profit college student is 31. They have often been positioned as an alternative for portions of the population who are underserved by the public college and university community. They are also very much a second chance outlet: your high school record, SAT or ACT scores, are irrelevant.

And yet the education-for-profit industry in the U.S. is tanking. And there are a number of good reasons why.

  1. The fact that the goal of the for-profit college is profit changes the way decisions are made about investment and education. Shareholders are the key constituents, not students. How do you maximize profit? By charging a lot and spending a little. A report issued by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in 2012 reported they spend an average of 17.7 percent of their revenue on student instruction. Where else does the revenue go? A lot goes into advertising and marketing, some goes to shareholders and some to executive compensation. That same Senate committee identified the average compensation package for the CEO of a publicly-traded education corporation at $7.3 million. And that was back in 2012.
  2. The for-profit college is not substantially cheaper than traditional colleges. Costs fall in-between those of public and private non-profit schools. US News and World Report listed the average cost of tuition and fees at for-profit colleges in 2019 at $17,000 annually. Thus they are more expensive than community colleges or 4-year public universities.
  3. On the whole the outcomes for students who choose to enter for-profit colleges are woeful. According to U.S. News and World Report, only about 30% of students who enroll in for-profit colleges graduate after five years. Those that do graduate generally emerge with earnings potential that is less than graduates of public institutions, and often less than what graduates need to make to pay off their student loans.
  4. You have a good chance of coming out of a for-profit college in worse shape than when you started. That’s because of debt. The Senate committee report found that while for-profits enrolled only about 13% of the nation’s college student population, for-profit students represented 47% of the loan defaults. The National Center for Education Statistics pegs the 12 year for-profit student loan default rate at 65.7%.
  5. If you move on to another institution or chose to continue your education by seeking a more advanced degree, you’re likely to find your for-profit college experience to be useless. Former Department of Education appointee Michael Itzkowitz has reported statistics that show 94% of credit earned at for-profit schools won’t be accepted by community colleges or other institutions. In fact 83% won’t even be deemed acceptable at another for-profit.
Cost of college cartoon

As taxpayers, we are all paying for these so-called educational institutions because they completely depend upon public funds to pay the tuition of students who are more likely to default on their loans than they are to graduate. That same Senate report from 2012 found that 86% of for-profit college revenue came from federal loans and grants. For the largest of the for-profits, the University of Phoenix, 86% comes from federal financial aid and another 3% comes from the Department of Defense in the form of GI Bill benefits. According to The Century Foundation, “It is now widely acknowledged that many for-profit colleges engaged in unsavory practices to maintain the flow of taxpayer dollars. By marketing to veterans and low-income students eligible for the maximum amount of federal financial aid,, owners grew their schools rapidly, while overcharging and under-delivering along the way.”

What’s more, you never know whether you’re going to come to class and find the doors padlocked. Since 2010, 40% of all for-profit colleges have closed. Between 2014-16 alone, 180 for-profit college campuses shut their doors. Of all the colleges that have closed since 2013, 95% of them were for-profits. 

empty classroom
(image by Nathan Dumlao)

Thus, in spite of the efforts of the current administration in Washington and the Secretary of Education to protect and expand for-profit education, this industry is in free-fall. For-profit student enrollment peaked in 2010 at 2 million according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center statistics. In 2017 that number had dropped to 900,000 and two years later it was just short of 750,000.

In this series of posts, I’ll look at the history of non-profit colleges in the U.S., provide some case studies of these companies and report how the DeVos Department of Education continues to try to enable for-profit education.

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Painting on the walls, with social commentary

Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art 1925-1945

Whitney Museum of American Art

Man, Controller of the Universe
In 1934 the Rockefeller Corporation commissioned Diego Rivera to paint a fresco in the Rockefeller Center Tower. The completed work included a portrait of Vladmir Lenin. Nelson Rockefeller asked Rivera to erase the portrait. He refused and Rockefeller Corp. destroyed the mural. Rivera recreated a version of it at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City and titled it Man, Controller of the Universe. This is a reproduction of that work.

The Whitney’s most recent exhibit is dedicated to the influence of a group of Mexican muralists who emerged following the Mexican Revolution which ended in 1920. It focuses on three artists: José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. All of them spent some time in the U.S. and created some murals here. The exhibit also features the works of some of the artists, both American and Mexican, who were influenced by the muralists.

Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato in 1886. He was an atheist and member of the Mexican Communist Party, though he was later expelled from the party for being a Trotskyite. Rivera studied art in both Paris and Italy. He created murals in San Francisco, Detroit and New York. The artist Frida Kahlo was the fourth of his five wives. They married in 1929, divorced in 1939, and then remarried in 1940.

Portrait of America, Diego Rivera
This is a study for part of Rivera’s 21-panel Portrait of America that he painted for the Communist New Workers School in New York in 1933.

Jose Clemente Orozco

Jose Clemente Orozco was born in 1883 in what is now Ciudad Guzman. When he was 21, he lost his left hand while making fireworks. He is best known for political murals. He lived in the U.S. from 1927-34 and he painted murals in New York, California and at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He also illustrated John Steinbeck’s The Pearl.

Prometheus
This is part of a reproduction of Prometheus, a mural which Orozco painted at Pomona College’s Frary Dining Hall in Claremont, Calif.
Christ Destroying His Cross
Christ Destroying His Cross reproduces one of the panels that was part of Orozco’s mural at Dartmouth College.

David Alfaro Siqueiros

David Alfaro Siqueiros was born in Chichuahua in 1896. By the age of 18 he was a member of the Constitutional Army fighting the government of Victoriano Huerta. He would be a political activist throughout his life. He lived and worked in Los Angles for a spell in the 1930’s but was deported by the U.S. government. In 1938 he was fighting in Spain against Franco and back home in 1940 he led an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Trotsky who was in exile in Mexico. In 1960 he was imprisoned after leading protests against the arrest of striking workers and teachers.

Self Portrait with Mirror
Self Portrait with Mirror
The Struggle Against Terrorism
This is a reproduction of The Struggle Against Terrorism, a mural painted in a two story courtyard at the University of Michoacan in Morelia, Mexico. It was painted by Philip Guston and Reuben Kadish, two artists who trained with Siqueiros in Los Angeles, and by Jules Langsner
The Protector, Alfredo Ramos Martinez
The Protector, Alfredo Ramos Martinez
Zapatistas, Alfredo Ramos Martinez
Man and Woman, Ruffino Tamayo
Man and Woman, Ruffino Tamayo
Woman of Tehuantepec, Tina Modotti
Woman of Tehuantepec, Tina Modotti
Me and My Parrots, Frida Kahlo
Me and My Parrots, Frida Kahlo
The Driller, Harold Lehman
The Driller, Harold Lehman
Motherhood, Mardonio Magaria
Motherhood, Mardonio Magaria
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Treefall

In the forest, old trees give way to the new.

In winter you see their broken trunks splayed about the forest floor.

Come spring the woods turn green,

and they are forgotten.

MIlls Reservation
MIlls Reservation
MIlls Reservation
MIlls Reservation
MIlls Reservation
MIlls Reservation

Photos from Mills Reservation, Cedar Grove and Montclair, N.J.

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The LBJ Enigma

LBJ in his office

There is no U.S. president that I have more mixed feelings about than Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was 13 at the time. He would remain president for most of my teenage years. I was approaching the age of 18, which at the time meant conscription, the draft, a possible unwanted tour of Vietnam. LBJ inherited that war but he perpetuated and escalated it. I hated him for it. At protest marches against the war we would chant, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

It took quite awhile for me to appreciate the things that LBJ did. His presidency included more landmark progressive legislation than anyone else I can think of. He signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. During his administration Medicare and Medicaid were created, legislation was passed addressing fair housing, immigration reform, clean air and clean water.

The LBJ Museum and Library on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin addresses the enigma of LBJ, albeit in an ever so gentle way. The war is presented from the viewpoint of the president. More than once I saw the quote, “I can’t win it, and I can’t get out.” It’s the latter part of that sentence than many of us would take issue with.

LBJ did this:

LBJ's legislation

He enabled this:

LBJ accomplishments

But then there’s this:

Vietnam War
Vietnam War era cartoon
Washington Post headline

And yet this quote is as appropriate today as it was in 1965:

LBJ quote
JFK and LBJ
LBJ's limo
LBJ’s limo

From start to finish:

LBJ as a school teacher
LBJ's last speech
The LBJ library
The LBJ library

The campaigns:

LBJ's hat

LBJ the cartoon:

LBJ with kids

LBJ statue
LBJ and Lady Bird
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