Friday, January 21, 2011

For-Profit Higher Education -- My Thoughts

Google "For-profit colleges," and you can see lots of posts from naysayers. I read something today which spoke of those that turn out "...poorly educated students with heavy debt."

Yes, for every service there appear respectable institutions -- and those simply taking advantage of people's need.

In recent decades, the push for an educated workforce has given rise to the for-profit educational sector. Among those it proposes to empower are single parents, especially mothers, who want to have the resources to command jobs with a future and equitable wages. Not too many would argue against this.

In the 1990's, prior to online instruction, I found for-profit schooling to be a way to finish the degree I had started years ago. Only a few courses away from graduation from a Cal State campus, I was faced with an unattractive option: give up my day job with insurance benefits for my young child and myself, and flip burgers at night to take classes during the day. It seemed that it was either that, or give up my long-range professional goals. That's when I found "my school," and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Here's my opinion about this poor education/heavy debt argument. There has ALWAYS been instruction that's lacking everywhere, on any campus, in any era. And, also, there have also been those who are not mindful of the amounts they borrow, for education or any other commodity. Blame for the lack of value can be shared by many.

When I commenced night-time adult learning, I was reassured by the genuinely collegial relationship I saw shared by the instructors and students. In the main, the professors were successful practitioners by day, and eager to use these anecdotes in class at night to enhance learning. Most students were seeking learning for its own sake, and also to become active contributors to their professions and communities.

I'm saddened to hear and read that for-profit schools are, all too often, looked at as simply a quick route to a diploma. Tuition has engendered an attitude of entitlement, with students complaining about instructors who don't give them the "A" they "deserve" -- or "paid for." Knowledge loses its cachet, and students and society are deprived of so much potential cultural enrichment when there is only superficial material and rote regurgitation of facts and figures. The scene from the 1960 film "The Time Machine" comes to mind, when Rod Taylor finds that the Eloi have allowed a library of books to turn to dust, because they did not know how to use them.

Academic rigor can be a casualty of "quick and easy education," if instructors are not prepared to show that they are passionate about their topics, and firm in their standards. As a professor, how many times have I heard, "Well, the other teachers don't make us do all this...". So, if all we instructors don't take excellence seriously, how can we fault our students for not doing so either?

Bottom line, I'm truly proud of the contribution that my for-profit education had in my life, both personal and professional. I fondly remember my professors for the fine, heartfelt work they did, and try to carry on their influences in my teaching.

It's time for both students and instructors in the for-profit sector to take authentic pride in their schools, even if there are no ivy-covered walls surrounding them. The prestige of learning should be a state of mind, not subject to the kind of building in which it is conducted.
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