I have some colleagues– all in the non-profit education business– who feel a little too smug about the for profit industry. It’s naive, of course, to think that the for-profit industry schools are, by and large, less ethical than the traditional universities, with their multimillion dollar athletic programs (essentially an advertising and recruitment expense as extravagant as any drug company) and two-tier employment system of a few tenured professors supported by the many non-tenured, par time teachers and graduate students. No sector can afford to throw stones in these glass houses.
The for profits, for example, are no more likely to put students into debt, according to Neal McCluskey (Politicians Are The Problem For Higher Ed). What’s unique about the for-profits is that they arose during the worse excesses of laissez-faire Regan style capitalism. If the traditional universities need reform and a tightening of regulations, particularly when it comes to labor policy, the for profits suggest an entirely new kind of consumer protection regulation. I think the for-profits, for example, should not be able to make extravagant claims for the employment prospects of graduates. Neither should the traditional universities.
McCluskey is correct about the high cost of tuition but I think he’s wrong to suggest that the problem is that education is oversold. Similarly, he sounds vague and unpersuasive when he blames “the politicians”– although I am certain our representatives have their share of the blame. The problem is that no one seems to be able to articulate a rationale for mass education in a post industrial economy. In fact, the more the middle class shrinks, and the poor, working class, and working poor expands, the harder it is to justify educational accessibility. Educational capital only has real revolutionary potential if it is widely available.