Social Mobility, the ability to get a leg up and leverage a foothold on the ladder into vertical motion, is the holy grail for anybody who works with or lives in poverty.
For those that subsist on the ground floor, beneath the bottom rung of the American ladder, whether millionaires pay their fair share is less important than rent.
Today, Arne Duncan explained that post-secondary education is still the key to social mobility in this country. He told the American People that "Going to college, by far, is the best long-term investment any individual can make for their future."
Now, many of my students aren't even sure that they can (or even want to)finish high school. My classroom is filled with second-chancers who have already lost the ability to graduate in the traditional fashion, so when one of them comes around and decides that they want to go to college, it's a moment of celebration and it becomes our job to breathe energy into whatever has kindled the small flame inside.
But that's hard to do when college often means Everest, Devry, AI, or UEI.
A few days ago Laura, one of my students, came in to show me something. She was excited. She'd been researching colleges and had settled on one. She pulled out a brochure and my heart sank. She wants to go to UEI.
If you've not heard of it, you can use any one of the thousand other for-profit career-technical schools as a reference point. UEI specializes -- as many of them do -- in low-end certificated employment programs like "Criminal Justice" (TSA Screening, Gaming Observer, Security Guard) and Business Office Administration (secretarial school).
"What do you think?" she asked.
What do I think? I think that we need to be more specific when we talk about post-secondary education being the key to social mobility.
I think the same thing I think when any predator snags new prey. I think the same thing I do when anybody falls for a cheap line. I think the same thing I do when somebody I know tells me that they're reading Dianetics.
What do I think?
I think the for-profit post-secondary education industry is the single most horrible thing to happen to education and social mobility in this country in the last generation.
Education may be the key to social mobility, but education is not what the for-profit colleges offer.
Education cannot be done for a profit because education, the process of taking somebody who is knowledgeless and unskilled and transforming them into a skilled and knowledgeable contributor to society, is definitionally unprofitable. The people that require education require it because they do not yet have the capacity to earn. A For-Profit University cannot make money educating people, so therefore their mission is not fulfilled through education.
The for-profit nature of the institution's mission means that education is not an end product, but a means by which the institution can reap profit. And since their students are low-yield on that front, the school's chief focus is not on them. The institution's chief focus must be on the students'money-gathering properties.
Recently, the General Accounting Office investigated the for-profit university scams. They focused on 15 colleges and found that all 15 engaged in deceptive and misleading practices. Four of the fifteen engaged in outright fraud. Even Wall Street is souring on the for-profits because the model is truly unsustainable without rampant dishonesty.
Laura, just like most all of their other students, will have to take out loans and the school will do whatever it can to ensure that she receives them, including fraud, deceit, and trickery.
And what she will receive in return for her ability to gather money for her corporate master is a debt load and a useless degree that will trap her permanently in the underclass.
$10,000 in debt in order to earn $15 per hour.
$10,000 in debt to learn skills similar to the ones that we used to teach in public school vocational programs.
A poor girl will go $10,000 in debt in order to support corporate profit.
Fuck For-Profit Colleges.
That's what I think, but what do I say?
"I think it's good to be looking at college, Laura, but are you sure that this is the one you want?"
She is. She wants to do Dental Assistant.
I nod and suggest we look at the website. I pull it up and we begin to go through what she will need to do for her degree. It's an 8-month program.
I ask her whether this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She shrugs. "I can get a job with this. I want money."
I open the link to the required regulatory information and show her the figures. I point out that only 37% of the students finish the course in 8 months and that even then 1 in 5 are unable to find a job. Another truth of the for-profit university world is that a graduate is more work and less money than a drop-out. A person that completes the program is reflected in the job-placement statistics and, frankly, there aren't that many jobs out there for dental assistants and even fewer for other programs. It's better for the university to have students go for an extended period of time, max out their loans, and drop out before completion. The college gets the same amount of money either way.
Then I show her that the median loan debt for her program would be nearly $10,000.
She looks at me, shocked. She reaches over and goes to the "FAQ" section and tries to open the link to "How long will it take me to complete my training program." The linkis broken (this is a fairly common trick in the for-profit university world. None of the FAQ links for UEI work. At the Everest College site, the link for articulation agreements from their regulatory pagefails to load, so there is nowhere on the site that explains that your credits cannot be transferred to any other institution should you decide to switch).
"What the fuck am I gonna do?" She asks, "I don't want to owe no $10,000"
Our community colleges are overcrowded. They are trimming programs left and right, their campuses aren't clean and shiny, but they are the socialized alternative to the privatized, for-profit, trap and they do an amazing job for our young people.
We look at the program together, we look at the costs, the classes, the books (LACC's website doesn't require you to give contact information before you can review the programs, another way they are different from the for-profits. LACC won't call students 180 times to try and convince them to attend. They attract students by being good, they don't have to promote themselves through high-pressure sales tactics, glossy ads, and deceit.
By the time we're done, she's sold.
Socialism works when it comes to education. And even though Republicans are hell-bent on destroying public education so that their corporatist backers can reap more profit, they haven't closed them all yet, so that's where Laura will go instead.
Reposted from my personal blog