from The Chronicle of Higher Education April 25, 2014
Those Master’s-Degree Programs at Elite U.? They’re For-Profit
HIGHER EDUCATION has a long and fraught relationship with the labor market. From colonial colleges training clergymen to the Morrill Act, normal schools, and the great 20th-century expansion of mass higher education, colleges have always been in the business of training people for careers. The oldest university in the Western world, in Bologna, started as a law school. Ask students today why they’re going to college and the most common answer is, by far, “to get a job.”
But most colleges don’t like to see themselves that way. In educators‘ own minds, they arc communities of scholars above all else. Colleges tend to locate their educational missions among the lofty ideals ofthe humanities and liberal arts, not the pedestrian tasks of imparting marketable skills. In part, this reflectsthe legitimate complexity of some institutional missions. But the fact remains that most professors were hired primarily to teach, most institutions are not research universities, most students are enrolled in prc-profcssional programs, and, it seems, few colleges have undergraduate curricula that match their supposed commitment to the liberal-arts ideal.
It’s a nice trick-colleges and the people who work for them enjoy both the status associated with the exalted purposes of scholarship and the money that comes from playing a crucial role in building the nation’s store of human capital. Within that contradiction is a suffocating elitism and a disrespect for
people engaged in the necessary, difficult task of preparing diverse students for the increasingly volatile world of work.
Historically, this attitude has led colleges to neglect the growing market for adult students who need to enhance or retool their marketable skills. For-profit colleges entered the void. According to recently released data from the U.S. Department of Education, some of them arc doing an abominable job.
To take one example: Over a 12-month period in 2008 and 2009, nearly 27,500 people began repaying
student loans taken out to attend the University of Phoenix’s online associate-degree program in what the U.S. Department of Education calls “office management and supervision,” in which students learn about such things as the culture of the modern business environment and how to write memos. By the fall of 2012, 9,800 of those students – more than one-third-had defaulted on those loans, with more sure to come. Phoenix alone has 20 programs with default rates over 30 percent. Other for-profit chains are just as bad,