Quite a few years ago, when I saw a University of Phoenix branch for the first time, I was a bit puzzled—and not because the ‘university’ consisted of a single building sandwiched between a Best Buy and an Applebee’s—I live in Cleveland, over 2,000 miles from Phoenix. It’s true though, that colleges have satellite locations, so I wrote it off as simply an extension of what must be a huge state-funded university in Arizona. I wasn’t yet aware of what the University of Phoenix represented as a for-profit educational institution, or what a massive business it’s become.
Frontline PBS ran a story a few days ago that reports on the education boom that has occurred largely under the radar. It’s called College, Inc., and uses the largest school by revenue ($4 billion) and enrollment (half a million students), The University of Phoenix, as a model for the for-profit education movement.
For-profit colleges and universities have sprung up all over the country, providing non-traditional students with inexpensive, flexible education—and the colleges’ investors with a handsome return. Win-win situation, right?
There are a lot of varying opinions floating around; those against tend to refer to these schools as ‘for-profit,’ while those in favor call them ‘non-traditional.’ While both are accurate, neither adequately describes each side’s argument. For-profit, non-traditional schools have, in some cases, kept education prices in check by increasing competition. They’ve also helped to de-centralize higher education, offering entire degrees online, and making them available to those living in remote or rural areas.
Detractors cite the questionable recruiting practices and profit motives of some non-traditional schools. Harsher critics point to how the money that can be made in this new industry has attracted unaccredited, scam colleges that spring up like weeds, essentially offering degrees out of the trunk of a car.
When looking for a non-traditional school, it is vitally important to do your homework. Traditional colleges can lean on a long-held reputation or state funding for validation, which non-traditional colleges lack. There’s no question that the University of Texas is a credible institution, but what about Dallas State College? Or how about Dartmouth College vs. Darthmouth College?
You should research any school you plan on attending, but be sure to take an even closer look at the non-traditional variety. Because while most non-traditional schools can provide an inexpensive, top-rate education, there are those out there that can leave you unqualified, unemployed and in debt.
Further Reading on College Inc.
Photo courtesy of laurenatclemson via Flickr.