According to a viewpoint found in InsideHigher Ed, an online newsletter, entitled Missing the Point, by Anthony P. Carnevale , Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer the for-profit college industry is taking fire from all directions because a substantial number of for-profit colleges offer aggressively marketed programs of little value in the job market, leaving individuals unable to repay their debts and saddling taxpayers with the default burden. Much of the bad press is deserved, but the atmosphere of scandal and abuse detracts from a larger point: “We have failed to adequately connect college and careers. The current abuses are but the worst-case examples of this failure” (http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/08/26/carnevale).
It would be easy if this was the issue, but it is only a small part of the problem with for-profit institutions like Kaplan University who have seen their market share of the education industry grow substantially over the last ten years. Simply put, for-profit colleges and universities sell education like hot dogs at a county park event. Their bottom line is profit for this is why they exist and their fiduciary obligations are to their shareholders, where, as in the case of WPO, the owner of Kaplan University, 21% of the stock is owned by the so-called philanthropist, Warren Buffet. To run a school for profit one has to assure that costs are contained and no better way to do this is than in cutting staff, cutting ‘unnecessary courses’, putting training not learning online, hiring the majority of ‘faculty’ as adjuncts with little or no benefits and no job security or academic freedoms.
Profit maximization means that the market must continually be monopolized by mergers, acquisitions and other schemes to assure no competition for this is the last thing the oligarchs, investors and their financial institutions want. What they want are free markets all right, but freedom in this case means freedom to control the markets they wish to dominate. The fact that the Second Great Depression has now created the material conditions for these for-profit universities and colleges to get their nose under the financial camel’s tent has meant the rules of the ‘game’ are shifting. Privatization is looking more and more like the future for community colleges.
You wouldn’t know this by reading Anthony P. Carnevale, Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer. When talking about the for-profit crime educational syndicates like Kaplan or the Phoenix University, or DeVry, Corinthian and others who serve nobody but their investors, according to Anthony P. Carnevale , Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer:
“This failure has broader implications because a postsecondary credential has become the prerequisite for middle class earnings, but there are enormous discrepancies in earnings returns between different credentials. Sometimes, a particular certificate is worth more than a particular bachelor’s degree. For example, 27 percent of people with licenses and certificates earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient does. This information is not intuitive, but it is available, and prospective students should have access to it to understand what they’re getting” (ibid).
First of all, what middle class? This media generated term has little resonance to or for the working people of this country who have not seen their wages rise for more than three decades, adjusted for inflation. Yet their productivity increases have skyrocketed, making their corporations and CEO’s filthy rich while millions now lose their homes, live in tent cities, are unemployed, homeless, in the prison industrial complex or working two or more jobs. This reality does not seem to represent a problem for the writers. Second of all, the whole argument is a fallacy of relevance for the issue is whether for-profit universities should takeover public institutions, not whether learning opportunities for occupations should be made available for students.
Working off of mythical assumptions while most cities experience levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression of 1929 and beyond, the writers go on to lament with acquiescence to the emerging privatized educational cybernetic complex:
“Like it or not, postsecondary education is already almost entirely occupational. All certificates and occupational associate degrees are intended to have labor market value. Academic associate degrees have minimal return unless they lead to a bachelor’s. Only 3 percent of bachelor’s degrees are liberal arts, general studies, and humanities degrees — the remaining 97 percent have an occupational focus. (Add in English, philosophy, religion, and cultural and ethnic studies and you’re up to 8 percent.) Moreover, for most students, liberal arts degrees are preparation for graduate and professional degrees, virtually all of which are intended to prepare students for careers. The current dust-up shouldn’t be about for-profit colleges being all bad, or about public colleges being off the hook. Rather, we should attempt to use data to find out which colleges are performing for their students” (ibid).
How sad that the United States, once known for its rich educational opportunities and universities based on European legacies is now capitulating to anti-intellectualism on the level of Bill Gates and the Walton family. Learning how to make a living is now the issue, not learning how to live and thus the scramble to dummy down education and turn the community college enterprise into a diploma mill for occupational degrees is on the rise. As America sinks into a third world economy the answer put forth by many is to simply let education sink right down with it. Forget learning critical literacy, forget studying history or philosophy. The stakes are too high! Turn education into a career track and this will thus allow the ‘middle class’ to once again prosper as they saddle up for a new future – one not of their making. But it gets worse. For according to the authors:
“The current scandal has arisen because of bad information. Slick subway ads and glossy brochures will not suffice to provide potential students weighing their options with accurate career advice” (ibid).
The commodification of education and the selling of education as a product for profit maximization does not seem to bother these authors, in fact they embrace it. Meeting the needs of the new oligarchy and the rising inequality embedded in the economy seems to be their primary concern and they mask it all within rhetoric regarding students’ needs in the ‘new economy’. What do these authors’s suggest? They suggest the problem can be solved by building new information systems:
“To build this data system, wage record data would have to be tied to transcript data. Wage record data, which is actual wages at the individual level as reported by an employer, has been around since the late 1930s and is used to verify eligibility for unemployment insurance. These records are held at the state level by employment services agencies, and are also given to the federal government every three months. Transcript data is not currently collected by any federal agency, but is available in varying degrees in all but five states. Eleven states have already linked their transcript and wage record data, and are able to track earnings returns to postsecondary programs. Only seven states can link transcript and wage record data for programs at proprietary schools. This system is still nascent, but has enormous potential to help students evaluate their options, as well as inform institutions in planning new programs and evaluating existing ones” (ibid).
Tracking students using panoptic means is all part and parcel of the new Race to the Top that is galloping into a public community college system near you. Rather than stand up and defend public education, these authors and others now support data tracking systems like businesses use to track their consumer’s tastes. But this is not all. They also suggest that:
“Building a user-friendly interface is the next step, if we wish for this information to be useful for consumers. Imagine being able, with a few clicks and keystrokes, to explore various careers, find out how many jobs are currently available in the field, how many there are likely to be over the next several years in your area, what education and training programs exist in your local area and online, what they cost, what financial aid is available, and what the average salaries are for graduates of each program. Such a system would empower individuals to choose careers that would truly benefit them, and encourage institutions to offer programs that would prepare them for the jobs that will actually exist” (ibid).
The whole thing sounds like one giant Craig’s list, not anything resembling an educational site. ‘Learn to earn’ is now the premium and this means forget poetry, dance, philosophy or the arts. These erstwhile pleasures will be reserved for the ruling classes and liesure classes who do not attend community colleges but instead haunt the corridors of power at Harvard or Yale, Berkeley or Princeton, eventually emerging to invest in what is being proposed, or to manage it. The class system under capitalism requires different strokes for different folks and of course the working class will receive ‘credentials’ and ‘occupations’ while the ruling class will receive degrees, power and influence. Like it or not, the rich get ice in the summer and the poor get ice in the winter.
It is saddening to find the for-profit attendants and supplicants eager to give up public education for community college students in favor of ‘partnering’ with for-profit predatory colleges to assure they go down the path of occupational education. Surely no one is arguing that we do not need occupational work; the issue is at what social expense, where, for whom and how it will all be subsidized, governed and controlled. Destroying public education by allowing it to be swallowed by for-profit universities that trade on the New York Stock Exchange is a crime, not a solution for students. They will be set up to be unsuspecting subjects of criminal activities that predate them.
The plan also represents the direct transfer of public coffers to private corporations under the current neo-liberal paradigm. Facing dire fianancial crisis more and more ‘educators’ seem to be jumping on the privatization bandwagon as they see their community colleges buckle under budget constraints. Instead of fighting for a public education for all students the students will be instead thrown under the private bus, so to speak, by their elders. Better said they will be thrown on-line, attended to by pre-packaged curriculum for-profit, low paid adjuncts who now have replaced many tenured faculties and who have become little more than call centers, IT ‘support groups’, privatized ‘learning systems’, and of course they are increasingly monitored by a testing regime.
The business plan for the for-profit universities and colleges is always the same. Lower wages for all workers and especially professors, no unions, no benefits for workers, 24/7 availability of faculty, dummied down corporate curriculum, less courses for students; it is a Race to the Top for community colleges equipped with testing and teacher and student evaluations based on for-profit tests along with the cutting of essential programs such as music and the arts.
Soon, we might see entire social science departments closed as the 60 units needed for undergraduate transfer to a state college or university include such meddlesome subjects as critical thinking, philosophy, literature, history and the humanities. If college is simply to be a factory for occupational jobs then why would we need to have students complete any of these subjects, most of which are currently required to transfer to a state university or public university? In other words, who needs liberal arts?
This does not seem to bother Anthony P. Carnevale , Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer. They accept privatization as the inevitable march towards freedom and point to the new information systems as the answer to what fails students and community colleges and community college education:
“Further, such information systems that connect postsecondary programs with labor markets represent a savings to the taxpayer, improving efficiency in matching programs to careers and curbing the enormous cost of student loan default” (ibid).
The commodification of education for a broken economy and dreams of a future of low-paid work is really what is being proposed and defended by the authors. This is the Walmartization of education at the college level and could spell real problems for the need in the future for any state universities at all. Why have state universities if we can turn our community colleges in to school-to-work factories? Why not simply have two-tiered systems of education: one for those who will be marched off to occupations and one for those who will become the new rulers and managers in the privatized society? After all, this would save billions in California alone where state universities litter the geography. State college campuses could be closed or sold to investors.
“Educators and others may worry that tying curriculums to careers may subjugate education to economics. We clearly need to aspire to a pragmatic balance between postsecondary education’s growing economic role and its traditional cultural and political independence from economic forces. While it is important that we not lose sight of the non-economic benefits of education, the economic role of postsecondary education — especially in preparing American youth for work and helping adults stay abreast of economic change — is also central to the educator’s broader mission to cultivate thoughtful individuals” (ibid).
In other words, learning is great but learning to work within a capitalist system is better. After all, students are broke, the community colleges are broke, the American people are broke and heck, the state, federal government and municipal governments are broke so shifting the paradigm from authentic public learning to privatized inauthentic preparation for low-paid work must be the answer, right?
“The inescapable reality is that ours is a society based on work. Those who are not equipped with the skills and credentials necessary to get, and keep, good jobs are denied full social inclusion and tend to drop out of the mainstream culture, polity, and economy. In the worst cases, they are drawn into alternative cultures, political movements, and economic activities that are a threat to mainstream American life” (ibid).
If this sounds like Arne Duncan or Bill Gates speaking about K-12 education it should. It is the same monologue and as we will see, many of the same financial players stand to make a fortune off the new school to work paradigm if it is adopted. The companies that will provide the information data bases, the testing apparatus (Kaplan for example), the companies that will drive the texts (media giants who now merge into education such as The Washington Post and others), the corporations that will provide the ‘training’ for the new wave of Wal Mart associates called adjuncts, the ‘turnaround artists’ who will revamp the organizational structure along with Wall Street will all make out like bandits. Students will be left with debt for life in exchange for non-union low-paid occupations. Teachers will see their professions lost to at-will work or point and click programs and their positions contracted out to teacher chop shops. The execution of the educator’s work will be divorced from the conception of their work as they become little more than cogs in a privatized machine executing pre-packaged corporate lesson plans online.
Unfortunately the news that has permeated the educational sector regarding the predatory practices of the for-profit colleges is simply part and parcel of the barking at the ‘bad apple’ syndrome; a lamentable fact, we are told, that could be resolved by regulating the privatized apple orchard. Regulating it by mating with it.
Anthony P. Carnevale , Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer actually derive an even more incredulous lesson from the whole for-profit criminal enterprises that pose as colleges; this is a lesson that if believed and adopted will basically destroy education for working class people in this country and encourage an even more anti-intellectual climate than we have now. According to them:
“The current abuses are a wake-up call — they signal the disenfranchisement of students who are denied access to the middle class and full social inclusion because they lack information on what kind of education can get them there” (ibid).
Yes, the problem is not virulent, off-with-the gloves capitalism and a social system that cannot provide education to its working class students or a decent wage for their professors. The problem is not an economic and social system that is so broken that it cannot even provide food or shelter, let alone courses to students (most students live at home) as they dig in their pockets or sofa cushions for the money for higher tuition and fees as courses close or are filled to the capacity due to over-enrollment or too many students wanting to enroll in too few class offerings. Forget all that: the problem, we are told, is a product ‘information problem’. Students just do not have the information they need about the educational product they need to make the right choices. Setting up a data bank, we are told, will cure all that is wrong with a public education system that is underserved, under funded and under attack.
Students certainly do need information, but they need to begin with information as to how their broken socio-economic system works. They need to see how two illegal, two-trillion dollar wars and a bloated pentagon are eating up civilian life. They need to understand how the powerful and wealthy plutocrats are carving out a low-existence and low-information life for them while reaping all the wealth creation from a system that redistributes wealth to the top one percent. They need historical information about how to resist oppression and how the few gains we have made in the area of equality have been won. Obviously this is not the information that is being proposed they receive. What is being proposed is information about the ‘educational product’.
Anthony P. Carnevale , Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer are apologists for a new, unnacceptable and debilitating for-profit scheme and they ask us to accept this corporate forum, this predatory scheme of turning over our public colleges and education to for-profit computer schools where one is told they can be educated by pointing and clicking while the corporations and Wall Street investors reap huge profits. By accepting this sordid mess, Anthony P. Carnevale, Michelle Melton and Laura Meyer capitulate to the privatization of education and thus join Bill Gates, the Walton family, Arne Duncan, the Fischer family, Eli Broad and the rest of the philanthropists, coin-operated politicians and turnaround artists in holding hands with both the neo-liberal state and the for-profits in an attempt to prepare students for a futureless future, one devoid of critical thinking and centered on preparedness for low-paid or non-existent work. Training is proposed to replace education. Students are told they will learn to ‘earn’ while living to survive.
If the ideas proposed are accepted, we will find that there is no teaching profession any more at community colleges, just like we are seeing at the K-12 level. In its stead we will find at-will employees, and 1099 contract employees barely meeting their bills while doling out corporate pabulum as learning to students so they might compete with China at the end of US Empire.