“We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you.  When your turn comes, we shall not make excuses for terror.  But the royal terrorists, the terrorists by the grace of God and the law, are in practice brutal, disdainful, and mean, in theory cowardly, secretive and deceitful, and in both respects disreputable.”

Karl Marx, final editorial in the Neue Rheinische Zietung

John Sperling, founder of the criminal racket known as the University of Phoenix, has come out with some of the most pernicious and mendacious statements regarding the UoP racket.  According to the aging Sperling (whose family has taken millions in taxpayer monies (http://www.dailycensored.com/the-apollo-group-and-its-for-profit-university-of-phoenix-is-bilking-teacher-pension-funds-taxpayers-and-students-for-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars/),  the University of Phoenix is doing a ‘service’ by providing students, mainly the poor, minority and disenfranchised with an opportunity to buy a diploma.

 

This is what the Mafia used to say when they shylocked loans to the poor and disenfranchised and then ‘broke their legs’ if they did not pay the debt and ‘vig’.  The same sub-prime argument is used by pawn shops, banks, mortgage hucksters, loan rackets, car title companies and the rest of the sub-prime economy.  No surprise that sub-prime colleges and their millionaire CEO’s say the same thing.

 

Sperling says he is doing the nation and students a big favor.  Fraud and crime is now clothed in charitable giving and concern for students.

 

According to the latest article on John Sperling, public education:

“… is becoming increasingly difficult for some students. California is a prime example. Drastic state budget cuts in recent years have forced colleges and universities to turn away hundreds of thousands of students because there is not enough money to educate them. Thousands more can’t get the classes they need because of overcrowding.”

“What’s happening in California is a more dramatic version of what’s happening all over the country: State support for higher education is going down, tuition is going up, and students are being turned away, or can’t get the classes or the counseling they need to be successful” (http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/phoenix/story-of-university-of-phoenix.html).

Sure: allow for-profit colleges and the privatization of all of education and there is little, if anything left for the public commons.

The truth be told

Yet the truth is otherwise, as Sperling and the corporate media knows.  For beginning in the Bush years, or actually before, the neoliberal state worked diligently to provide the material conditions allowing for the enormous growth of education for profit. In doing so, it has now created its own Frankenstein of debt and default that seeks refuge in the pockets of ordinary taxpayers. The for-profit industry, armed with billions of dollars and working off the disaster economics that has left the public sector unable to keep libraries open, let alone provide a decent opportunity for students to gain universal access to education, is now enabled with lobbyists and private firms to fight Washington tooth and nail against their proposed regulations.

But this is hardly the point. For any regulations promise to leave intact a criminal enterprise that is not just a collection of bad apples, but is a rotten barrel of despair, financial ruin for students and moral outrage, not to mention the source of costs that will be thrown on the backs of ordinary Americans as students find there is no “gainful” employment under the economic policies of market fundamentalism and Wall Street crimes, and the defaults quicken. What all this means is that taxpayers may be on the hook for close to one trillion dollars or more (http://www.truth-out.org/neoliberalism-and-for-profit-predatory-educational-industry-you-cant-regulate-a-criminal-enterprise6). Sperling is little more than a white collar mobster.

As I wrote back in 2011 for Dailycensored.com:

In 2011 The Sperling family (founders of University of Phoenix) cashed in $127 million in stock, while the University of Phoenix was ranked as having the lowest graduation rate (6-7%) of any college in the Washington DC metro area.  Sound familiar?  Sure, Kaplan comes to mind as do the other for-profit predatory schools that commodify education and sell diplomas as a ‘ticket’ for a failing economy.  Americans were duped by the banks and their corporate media into thinking that ‘home ownership’ was the key to success in life and would represent an investment in their ‘futures’.   Now that that American scheme has crashed and the foreclosure crisis has hit more than four million ‘homeowners’  and another million scheduled to go under next year– renters from the banks – this message has been denuded as the lie that it always was.

Now the sub-prime education racket is ginned up with the same pitch. ”Get a college degree and you will be successful in life; never mind the cascading student debt that has to be paid to the predatory banks and Wall Street institutions that loan shark out funds to pay for the sordid diploma mills.  Never mind the fact that there are no jobs in America leaving a growing surplus population facing dramatic decreases in opportunities for work, the disposable student population is a cash cow for predators.  These are ‘crisis or disaster schools’ that prey on poor and mostly minority students who are hit hardest by the growing inequality that capitalism as a system provides.

 

According to the article “University of Phoenix Founder John Sperling Sells $59 Million In Stock As Shares Soar” by Chris Kirkham published on 7/13/2011 in the Huffington Post, following the release of weakened government regulations regarding for profit colleges, which the likes of John Sperling and Donald Graham lobbied to weaken, Mr. Sperling cashed in $59 million in stock and his son Peter cashed in $12 million in stock during the same time frame.   This was on top of $57 million cashed in by John Sperling in April for a family total of $127 million.

Sperling, who says he is a born again Christian, has shown the face of his charitable religious claims by buying such politicians as Nancy Pelosi and others in his quest for profits at any cost.  Picking students as if they were low hanging fruit, Sperling has built an empire of doom that is now colonizing a student population that has ‘grown up corporate’.

As reported in the New York Times, Phoenix spent $1.43 million lobbying between January 2010 and October 2011. Further, Phoenix funded lobbying groups Coalition for Educational Success and the Association of Private Sector Colleges spent an additional $3.1 million lobbying the coin operated politicians.  Phoenix and other for profit colleges are using tax payer monies to lobby the government to maintain access to tax payer monies.  And it works.  As I have written elsewhere, using republicans but mostly democrats as hand tools for their business plans, schools like Phoenix work to thwart any regulation or oversight of their nefarious and predatory business plans.  As I wrote at Truthout.com, you can’t regulate a criminal enterprise, just like you can’t regulate a robbery, burglary, rape or homicide.  The schools need to be shuttered and their predatory ‘owners’ marched off to for-profit prisons which ironically mimic their business plans.

On December 13, 2011 Daniel De Vise published the following in the Washington Post “The 10 lowest college graduation rates in D.C.,Md.and Va”. The University of Phoenix Northern Virginia campus ranked number one with a graduation rate of 6%. The University of Phoenix Maryland campus ranked number 3 with a graduation rate of 7%.  The graduation rate measures the number of first time enrolling freshman who complete a degree program.  What better evidence for failure does the American public need to understand that commodifying education leads to little more than fraud and abuse?  Of course the corporate media fails to report any of this and students, down on their luck and facing choices of either the military, gangs or a life on the streets continually are suckered into taking out loans to pay for what has been peddled as an American dream — a college education.

Devise reported: Richard Castellano, University of Phoenix spokesman, said the figures…..“are not even in the ballpark. When you take into account all students at our Maryland and Virginia campuses, the University would not even make this list.  I asked him to provide graduation rates that account for all students at those campuses. He said he could not. But he said the university’s completion rate nationally is about 34 percent for students seeking bachelor’s degrees.”

Of course he could not provide the graduation rates; there is no transparency at these schools and even if he could, there is hardly any education going on at these for profit brothelsThat’s not their purpose.  They sell education like McDonald’s sells hamburgers or Pay Day Loan sites sell usurious loans.   These schools are simply another Lego in the culture of Social Darwinism that is endemic to American capitalism.

The publicly traded for-profit ‘Soprano schools’ or ‘disaster schools’ have created the many ethical and legal problems Kaplan, Phoenix and many others are facing and have eaten through billions in taxpayer funds while aggrandizing their own bank accounts.   The problem with the for-profit Wall Street model, as with all privatization schemes from for-profit prisons to for-profit health care is the primary legal and fiduciary responsibility is to the company’s shareholders, not to its students.   Locally owned for profit schools say they are educational innovators when they are in reality educational purveyors.   A glimpse at their curriculum, not to mention their allegiance to Wall Street, shows the hypocrisy of their claims.  These schools are muscled-up engines of despair for most students.  Much like ‘Fox News’ that is not news, these schools are not centers of learning they are centers of ‘earning’ and for a select few as the evidence shows.  They are dungeons of despair, legal rackets that exist for profit and for profit only.  Wedded to the idea that education is merely a means to an end, that end being a job in a system of a failing late stage capitalism,  much like capitalism the system they fail the general population while rewarding shareholders, fund managers, hedge fund managers, and the tycoons that perpetrated the fraud on the general public in the first place.

A Motel Six Education: where they leave the light on for students

I had the ‘good fortune’ to spend two days at a University of Phoenix’ campus’ in southern, California.  Located in an semi-vacant office building alongside mortgage businesses the ‘campus’ was nothing more than computers and vending machines.  I spoke to students, many of them.  Most said that their ‘experience’ at Phoenix was as rancid as experiences come.  ‘Teachers’ can teach up to 20 classes or more per year and thus have hundreds of students ‘online’ at any given time.  Due to the fact there are not jobs at public institutions, thanks to the rampant privatization and outright business plan to destroy public education in favor of for profit ‘providers’, the so-called teachers are as much victims of the schools as the students.  They eke out a living by receiving $1,000 to $2,000 per class and find themselves tethered to a business plan not a profession.  If class sizes are at least forty students, which is what the managers at the ‘campus’ told me, then this means that a teacher can make anywhere between $20,000 per year and $40,000 per year if they have an advanced degree but they will have as many as one thousand students and get no benefits, health care and of course are not unionized.  The problem is that not only is there no learning going on at the for profit schools, the teachers have no time to personally attend to students.  Most students I spoke with told me that they received no feedback on their ‘work’ for the classes they took online.  Plagiarism ran rough shod over the whole notion of education.  Students were not going to school to learn how to live; they were duped into going to the Phoenix University to ‘learn how to make a living’.

 

When I arrived early in the morning, management at the campus, largely female and minority, were gazing vacuously at the game show, ’The Prize is Right’ on a big screen TV in the ‘resource center’ with closed captions while poor disenfranchised students, mired in debt and deluded into accepting Phoenix as education and a ticket to a future, looked vacantly into computer screens with no idea that they were being mugged.  This is the mode of learning at Phoenix.  Many students I met were clueless as to why they were even at the school other than to tell me that a diploma meant they would get a job.  One student I met was homeless, living in his car and using the bathrooms at the ‘campus’ for quick showers in between ‘learning’.  Another woman I met told me she was $40,000 in debt due to her experience at Phoenix.  When I asked her what she would do to pay back the debt, she told me that she would be deferring it (rolling it over) so she could get her Master’s degree in business.

The school that would provide the so-called degree was, of course, the University of Phoenix.  A large poster taped to the door of the ‘resource center’ informed students how they could go online and buy goods and services even cruises and get customer discounts for attending the little shop of horrors.  An older gentleman of approximately forty years explained to me he had ‘gone back to school’ due to the failing economy where he had been a welder.  Now, with jobs disappearing as quickly as the Title IV funds that the schools live off of, he had no profession and was going to the University of Phoenix at the cost of $35,000 to become a physical education coach.  When I asked him where he would do his student teaching he quietly told me, in a hushed voice, that he was currently working with kids at a local high school but that Phoenix would not allow him to use the experience as student teaching.  Why?  No money in it for the school.  Management was quick to point out to me that they were constantly spied on by the university employees.  All their communications online were panoptically regulated by another level of management that was paid to assure that all campus site managers did not use the computers for anything that was not devoted to Phoenix.  I left the for-profit ‘university’ after two days wishing yellow tape was wrapped around what was obviously a crime scene.  I felt sorely in need of a good bath.

Education, as seen by critical pedagogy, is an act of liberation – an act that owes its allegiance to critical thinking and preparation for life, not preparation for a plutocratic economy that suffers a private sector that cannot create jobs for Americans and never will.  Until the American public sees education as an act of social and personal liberation we as a public will see our tax funds wedged into the pockets of a few plutocrats who fear both critical thinking and liberation for it would tear a big hole in their ‘disaster educational’ plans.  Their goal is to tie students to debt peonage, ignorance and serfdom and with an allegiance to privatization that threatens both their personal lives and the planet on which we live.

The mythical bird robs the poor and taxpayers

It might be helpful to remember that the ‘phoenix’ is a mythical bird with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to the legends that surround it). Legend tells that it has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle.  According to legend, near the end of the life cycle it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites. The nest and bird then burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix, it is told, is destined to live as long as its old self.  In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of myrrh and deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis (literally “sun-city” in Greek). It is said that the bird’s cry is that of a beautiful song.  The Phoenix’s ability to be reborn from its own ashes implies that it is immortal.

Summary

The University of Phoenix is not a myth; it is a criminal nightmare that preys on minorities, veterans, the poor and disenfranchised by peddling phony degrees at public and private expense.  The existence of such debt cancer schools has raided the government coffers and funneled taxpayer monies to criminals like Sperling, which is why monies for a public education have disappeared.  Using the Shock Doctrine, these schools financially rape the public and then lend a wicked hand under the auspices of ‘helping students’ when in fact they have created the material conditions that have left students colonized and without hope.

We can only hope that the UoP life cycle will be cut short by a citizenry that finally realizes that it is being duped by the one percent and that instead of a beautiful song, the sounds emanating from the decrepit for-profit sham are the whimperings, ravings and painful cries of duped students, disheveled teachers and broke taxpayers who once again have fallen for another privatization scam that finds the them bereft of anything resembling an education while the swag is carried off by pirates and deposited in Wall Street banks or worse, overseas in private bank accounts.

As a nation, we should be ashamed for what we are doing to our youth — we now have disposable youth.  When the chickens come home to roost we will see that one trillion dollars of taxpayer monies have flown the coop, surpassing credit card debt and leaving deracinated youth in a sea of unpayable and non-dischargeable debt.

We will and have seen suicides rising among youth, while more and more young people are disposed, vaporized and left in poverty.  One trillion is owed by students for ‘college’ and 40% of this is gobbled up by the for-profit boot camps they call ‘for profit education’.  You, the taxpayer will be asked to bail out Wall Street once again by picking up the costs of the toxic loans.

As some celebrate Christmas one can only wonder what Jesus would say (http://www.dailycensored.com/university-of-phoenix-founding-family-sells-127-million-in-stock-while-phoenix-ranks-lowest-in-graduation-rate-for-dc-metro-area-2/).

Sources: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/13/university-of-phoenix-founder-john-sperling-sells-stock_n_897575.html, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/12/10/us/top-for-profit-college-spenders.html?ref=politics, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/the-10-lowest-college-graduation-rates-in-dc-md-and-va/2011/12/13/gIQAnfSVsO_blog.html

 

 A picture of John Sperling relaxing at his debt financed mansion