The cost of for-profit education



Writing in The New York Times, Gretchen Morgenson observes:

In the years before the mortgage crisis, financial regulators often looked the other way as banks and other lenders pursued reckless activities that cost investors, taxpayers and borrowers billions of dollars. When trouble hit, these regulators had to scramble to fix the mess that their inertia had helped create.

This same dismal pattern is now playing out in the for-profit education arena.

She is writing about the Corinthian Colleges debacle which is not, unfortunately, being treated as systemic but as an isolated case that, when cleaned up, can allow for-profit education to continue as before. That is, to take oodles of government money and government-backed loans from naive and desperate students and give very little in return.

Morgenson’s article is worth reading by anyone who believes that privatization is the way to go–in anything. But it is even more important for those (it should be all of us) who care about education. The implications of the Corinthian situation extend far beyond higher education for-profits. The entire charter-school movement is part and parcel of the same philosophy: Extol the virtues of the free market while arranging to take government money under the smokescreen you have created.

Nothing in the charter-school movement yet equals what is happening with Corinthian–but there are signs that something will. Just recently, the head of the charter chain Family Urban Schools of Excellence in Connecticut was exposed as not having earned the doctorate he claimed and of having served time in prison. The lax oversight of charters highlighted in Hartford is not unique–but standard. Soon, one of the charter chains will explode in scandal at the level of Corinthian or above.

At some point, we are going to be forced to realize that we’ve been allowing people, under the guise of “reform” and with the fictitious rationale that our schools (and colleges) are “failing,” to get extraordinarily rich while providing in return what, we will finally discover, is absolutely nothing.

Worse, we will have a generation of students who really have been failed by our schools–but not by our “traditional” public schools or institutions of higher education. They will have been failed by a new system of exploitation that has made a few very, very rich and that will have left many with shattered dreams.

Corinthian claims “we change students’ lives.” Sure they do… and that’s the problem.