Let me start by saying that I get how difficult it is to get an education.  Taking the first step of calling a school to set up an appointment is not easy.  And there are a ton of things that have to happen between that first call to actually sitting in a seat.

But just as completing the work is your responsibility, the school that is all too happy to take your financial aid forms has some responsibility…alot of responsibility!

The government is planning to take a hard look at the regulation of student loans for some post secondary schools.  You can read about it here: http://www.usatoday.com/money/markets/2010-08-17-stocks17_ST_N.htm

I used to teach at a for profit school, two of them, as a matter of fact.  I also was a program director where I reviewed the applications of those wanting to get into the school.  So I have had an opportunity see the carnage first hand.  I saw kids that were not emotionally prepared to start school be enrolled despite the concerns of several people, simply because “we don’t have a crystal ball” and admissions needed to hit their numbers.  Sure, that happens all over at many schools.  But how many schools are charging $80K for a BA degree and will consider the student a success if they snag a job at a Kinko’s that can be verified?  How many of those kids can repay those student loans on $10 an hour?  Would those kids consider it a success?

While I get the dream of completing a degree and the pride of walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the president of the school and being handed the parchment that had been the bane of student’s existence for so long.  But the reality is that not every student is capable of getting a degree.  The administration has a responsibility to the student and their family to let them know that while they show promise, they aren’t ready.  But that would mean turning away enrollments and which means people won’t hit their numbers and missing bonuses.  And what a shame that would be.

See, it continues after they are enrolled and the administration leans on an instructor to “help” a student along.  “Helping a student” translates into keeping the retention numbers up, regardless of the quality of the student or education.  The student is no longer the problem of the admissions rep, they become the problem of the academic department.  And don’t forget that the longer a student stays in school, the more loans they will likely take out.  Once they take out the loan, the student is on the hook.  And what are the chances of they being able to pay it back if they are struggling and never should have been admitted in the first place?  Interesting article about repayment rates of for profit schools: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/college-inc/2010/08/feds_publish_loan_repayment_ra.html

Who is to blame?  Is it the fault of the admissions person?  Not entirely.  I worked with some really decent folks that were genuinely concerned about the quality of their prospects.  But they were getting beat up by the Director of Admissions that is getting beaten up by corporate that is so far removed from the process that they have no clue about the quality of the kids walking in the front door. Nor do they care until the numbers are met.  Because the small bonuses that are handed out to the people at the individual schools pale in comparison to the huge ones higher up the ladder.

Like any business, responsibility lays at the feet of the leadership.  They set the tone and the vision for the company.  But if they are more focused on meeting shareholder demands and Wall Street expectations, then quality of education is usually gonna end up farther down that list.

Now for the disclaimer:  I received my graduate degree from a for profit school and while it wasn’t as bad as the schools that I had worked at, there was clearly a disconnect between standards and class work.  And it goes back to the pressure that the faculty is under to maintain retention.  No one is making money by upholding academic standards.  Just like many of those that chose to complete their degree in a for profit institution, I went that route because it was easier for my schedule with a full time job and a family.  Traditional schools are often not as accommodating.

Which brings us to the advantages of these schools.  They try harder.  There is often an arrogance that resides at traditional schools that says, “if you want it bad enough, you will figure out a way”.  Well, that is a nice idea but it isnt realistic.  Life happens and responsibilities should sometimes have to take priority.  After all, kids like eating and having a place to sleep.  For profit schools do a good job of helping people attain their goals of an education and they are more accommodating to the needs of non traditional students.

But prior to the student signing on the dotted line for huge student loans that could take decades to pay back, I think the school has a responsibility to draw upon the professional expertise of its faculty and offer the student some input into the likelihood of the students’ success upon graduation, or even academic success.  After all, their expertise is often one of the major selling points of the school; that they have been out there working in the industry that they are teaching in.  Therefore, they are qualified to pull out their “crystal ball” and make a determination if this person can cut it out there.

Its admirable when someone takes the first major step towards achieving a degree.  It is scary enough taking that step, realizing that the sch0ol that you are entrusting with your dreams may not be working in your best interest can make it even scarier. Thank goodness someone is gonna force them to take a closer look at the loans the schools saddle the students with.