Non-Profit Girl Living In A For-Profit World.

There’s a whole world behind higher education that lies under the radar of the general public. I, foolishly, was unaware and overlooked this radar when I accepted my current job back in mid-2011. Let’s break it down real quick:

Public: Colleges and universities in the non-profit sector that are public. This includes public state colleges, public state universities, and community colleges. (Example: University of Massachusetts Boston, University of California, etc.)
Private: Colleges and universities in the non-profit sector that are private. This includes Ivy League schools and various colleges that are non-profit, but not public. (Example: Mount Ida College, Harvard, etc.)
For-Profit: Schools and some degree-crediting colleges that are for-profit and run more like businesses instead of educational institutions. Warmly called ‘diploma mills’ by many in the field. (Example: University of Phoenix, Lincoln Technical Institute, etc.)

I work in the for-profit business at a certificate-granting school. It’s not a college, despite the ill-informed statements from faculty and staff. We don’t offer degree programs, and the average job that we offer certificate programs in will pay roughly $15.00 per hour. Much to the opposition of my current job, I am a graduate student in a non-profit higher education program. You can start to see the torn elements of where I’m at career-wise, eh?

This past Friday I had to go to a for-profit conference in place of my boss. I suppose when you make well over $100,000, it’s easy enough to send one of your peons to do the dirty work. Whenever I venture into one of these conferences, I suddenly feel as though I am Mata Hari, dancing the dangerous lines of spy work.

Essentially, I am a non-profit spy living in a for-profit world.

Photo credit: lilyincanada.wordpress.com

The conference ended up being a real hoot and holler. If only sarcasm could be perfectly delivered via the Interweb… dreams, we all have to have them!

While pretending to take extensive notes for my boss, I actually formulated a list of idiotic moments I experienced at the conference:

1. Watching the pure astonishment on worker’s faces to hear our new governmental guidelines. You have to understand, in the industry I work in, it’s common practice to make up fictional students and request loans for them through the federal government to increase revenue. Attendance, grades… pretty much everything is forged, faked, and fraudulent. The mere idea of these practices makes my skin crawl. I am little miss ethics, so working in this industry truly puts me in a place where I am morally and ethically challenged daily. I silently listened to the government worker explain our new guidelines. Keywords I loved: criminal charges, personal accountability, and revocation of accreditation. Watching the faces around me twist and distort was pure amusement. They were absolutely shocked to think they could be held legally accountable for signing off on fake students and basically taking advantage of an already underserved population. Score one for the non-profit world!

2. Listening to the “psychology” of our target population. To put it bluntly, for-profit schools target minorities, disadvantaged K-12 students, people receiving welfare benefits, homeless students, ESOL students, new immigrants, etc. Basically any person that would have an extremely hard time going through “traditional” education. Now, this sounds good and dandy to help those who aren’t being helped, but when tuition costs are double that of the community colleges’ and our education is half-assed, all you’re really doing is taking advantage of people who don’t know better. The common saying in for-profit admissions is: if they have a heartbeat, can sign their name, and can be approved for a government loan or grant, they are an accepted student. Or, my least favorite: if you throw shit at the wall and it sticks with money falling out, they’re a perfect student. One of the workshops I attended spoke directly about the “psychology” of our target students and how to convince them to enroll. We were told tips such as, “If they skip an admissions appointment, tell them you will come pick them up at their house. This will scare them into enrolling because they will know you will never give up.” What?! If this isn’t loony tunes talk, I don’t know what is. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology and I am damn sure none of our lessons on psychology and advertising related to fear factors.

3. Having a 1.5 hour workshop on the “evils” of traditional higher education. Yes, folks… you may not be in the loop now, but please understand that traditional colleges and universities are the root of all evilor at least 99% of evil. Traditional schools do not have to adhere to the same academic requirements that for-profit schools do. The for-profit school I work at monitors attendance and grades “strictly”. Fear not, if a student falls below requirements, we don’t remove them from enrollment as put forth by the state and federal government; we just fake their grades and attendance! Can’t miss out on a free check from the government, afterall. Clearly, due to this, traditional higher education schools play with the devil because they don’t follow the same guidelines. Some radicalists (again, WordPress, please help me out with the sarcastic tone) may say that academic requirements are less “strict” at traditional schools because: A) they contribute to global competition and research that maintains the United States in several industries B) they kick out students automatically and block them from class registration when their grades slip too far below C) they have selective admissions where most students actually want to go to class and keep up good grades. But obviously these ideas are from radicalists, and not well-informed non-profit workers.

The list could truly go on and on. I committed myself to a solid thirty minute rant to my guy when I got home from the conference that day. The veins in my forehead popped out angrily as I strained my neck muscles, yelling about the foolishness of the entire for-profit trade. Most days I feel completely helpless and at the will of this poorly managed and overseen industry.

I’ve promised myself that when I get into the non-profit industry, I will be an activist against for-profit education. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good, even on the best day, is still absolute shit. And there’s not a soul out there that can convince me that absolute shit is what we should be feeding our future workers who will be the motivating factors behind this country’s future.

4 responses to “Non-Profit Girl Living In A For-Profit World.

  1. WOW. I work in non-profit public higher ed, but I’ve had a few friends who worked in for-profit. They’ve hinted at the poor practices, but this is really eye-opening for me. I hope you are able to finish your degree and get out of there SOON!! We are much kinder to students over on this side!!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kelly! I am also hoping I can land a position in non-profit soon 🙂 I’ve been applying for a year, so hopefully something will come through sooner than later. I think a big reason why there is little information out there about the realities of for-profit education is due to the extremely strict employment contracts they usually have workers sign. I had to review my contract before I even wrote this post, to make sure I wasn’t opening myself to a lawsuit or termination. Luckily, my last name is nowhere on the blog and I don’t directly identify my school or the specific conference I was at – so I’m in the clear 🙂

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