What’s the problem with For-Profit Colleges?
Theoretically – nothing. Realistically – profit above all else. Not-for-profit institutions are faced with ethical issues such as: should I recruit student X into my program even though it might not be good for student X, but we need our enrollment numbers to justify or maintain our budget? Again, that’s a question for people who are just trying to maintain a not-for-profit organization. Now imagine the motivation of the institution is to make money and provide growth and profit for investors – the for-profit problem. That’s just one of the dilemmas that emerges in the complex life of a higher ed institution.
Why shouldn’t I go to one?
Because in the hierarchy of institutions that are concerned about your future, for-profits tend to be the worst at preparing you for your desired future. That’s not to say that just because an institution is not-for-profit that they will keep your best interests as their main goal, but typically, a not-for-profit institution is better focused on your development.
So, where should I go? First off, you need to consider the economics of going to college. If things are looking financially difficult, then I suggest you start looking at community colleges as a starting point. They should have lower costs and shorter time spans to graduation. Also, many community colleges have agreements with larger universities that allow you to spend 2 years and then move for 2 more years in an undergraduate degree. Also, community colleges have programs that are, typically, focused on practical work in the community so there are more direct paths to a job at the end. These are great places to start your higher education with less financial risk.
As you may be hearing, there is an ever increasing demand for technical and trade based careers. For some reason, our societies seem to have put this type of work into a lesser career path, and many people seem to believe that they need to go to college to prove their worth. All my degrees make me no better (and probably worse) than those people who can actually fix and build many of the things I use in daily life and our overall infrastructure. Because of the skew in our societies, where not enough people are joining the trades and technical careers, there is great opportunity for many of you along this path.
Why the discussion?
The ideas in this post are discussed in my book, but John Grisham’s latest book (Amazon) is in relation to for-profit institutions, which revived my interest in spreading what I think is an important warning – just beware of promises.
Credits: Photo titled: Big Nickel, by Bruce Guenter
Should I be gaming the college system?
Gaming, in this sense, is pursuing an activity by satisfying requirements, but looking for and exploiting flaws in the rules of the system to easily and/or quickly achieve them outside the spirit of the system. My definition does not make any mention that gaming a system is good or bad, and rule based systems are very difficult to make perfect and are almost all exploitable.
Gaming is fine depending on the goal
You have to have your own goals set to determine if gaming a system is a good or bad thing. For example, in the tax system, if your goal is to maximize how much you and your family earn in a year, then any gaming rules that makes you pay less tax would be considered good. Alternatively, if your goal is to help fund your societies infrastructure, then you should avoid loopholes and pay the tax that you believe your system requires.
What about education?
Again the goals you have are your guide. Here are some examples of goals that suggest you should game the system and just get what you want:
- I want a degree
- I want to be called “Dr.”
- I want letters beside my name
- I want a 4.0 GPA
- I want to say I’m an alumnus of school X
- I want degree Y so I can do activity Z
Here are some goals that suggest you should not worry about gaming the system, but instead learn the material and work hard:
- I want to better understand how our world works
- I want a career in field X
- I want to develop my intellectual and cognitive abilities
Again, your goals are your goals, and I’m not here to judge there goodness or badness. I’m, personally, biased to the later goals. However, I think understanding the educational system and gaming it at certain times is a valid tactic. For example, there are times in higher education where you are overwhelmed with work. Tactically, selecting the highest priority/value work at those moments is a smart choice in my book.
Credits: photo titled: Games; by Axel Tregoning
Why is university so expensive?
There is a general concern that the cost of higher ed is too high. The question is, why is university so expensive? The answer is the cost to pay people is high, and the funding for paying people is mainly left to the individual.
People are expensive
The people in the “university so expensive” case are the faculty and staff. For example, to maintain a low faculty-to-student ratio (let’s say 20:1 which might be considered high) you arguably have 20 students paying for one faculty. Let’s further argue that with benefits and pay the 20 students need to cover around 200,000 dollars. Already, each of you needs to pay around 10,000 just for that single faculty.
Other ratios might enlighten us all
That single faculty is now paid, but what about the staff and administration needed to run a large institution. What is the staff to student ration or the administration to student ratio? What about the coach to student ratio? Each one of these people has both pay and benefits, and therefore, tuition dollars also need to be allocated to these resources.
Who pays for the heat and electricity? Who pays for the IT staff and infrastructure? Who pays for the gym, career center, and grounds up keep? It’s all part of tuition.
Does public education mean anything
In theory, public schools are fully (ha!) or partially funded by public tax dollars. The idea is that we as a collective help pay for a young persons education to allow for their career mobility. The reality is that less and less public funds are going to public universities, and as this happens the public university needs to raise tuition (or in a way, privately tax the young).
This is a societal choice, but under current trends an undergraduate degree is expensive, and the majority of the cost is used to pay the people that teach, maintain, and run the institution. That’s why university is so expensive.
Credits: photo titled: Money Hand Holding Bankroll Girls February 08, 20117; by Steven Depolo
What is tuition?
This is a simple question with a simple answer – tuition is the fees you pay for instruction. The hard question is how much should you be willing to pay for tuition and where are these institutions?
In the so called olden days
Higher education has gone through a number of transformations. One of the most significant ones that I have noticed is with respect to picking a school, and the variety of options a student looks at and the price paid for tuition.
When I was looking to head off to undergraduate the process was very simple. You applied to 3 universities in my province for specific majors, and depending on what you were accepted in, you went to one of those three programs. There was very little visiting campuses to see what they offered and being marketed to. In present day, the market for higher education is filled with public and private institutions (and for profit) all promising various futures. This means that students are considered as much students as revenue lines.
What does this mean for you?
As a potential student, you face the paradox of choice. What should you pursue and spend you money (or future debt on)? How many campus visits and what types of schools? Where should you consider going?
Just so you are aware, I work for a public university in the USA. I have only attended and worked at public institutions in Canada, USA, and the UK. These are the environments I have been at, as I make my suggestions to you.
In most cases = stay local and public
That’s my main tip (also don’t go to a for profit if you can avoid it!). For your first steps into higher education you don’t need to travel too far or pay too much. Your local community colleges, colleges, and universities will have more than adequate programs that can help you learn and obtain a basic degree and start you on your career trajectory.
There is almost no good reason to not follow the above rule. Here are a few examples that I might consider as valid reasons not to follow the rule:
- You have a full scholarship
- You have guarantees that the with scholarships and fee discounts that the institution cost is fixed and is less than or equal to what you would pay locally while being a more highly rated school
- You want to do a specific program that is only offered at X and you are certain you need this program for your planned future
- Your family or you have more than enough money and going to college X has no impact on your budget
I’m sure there are others, but honestly, take a look around you first.
Credits: photo titled: Pile Of Cash; by: 401(K) 2012
It’s not just tuition and room and board
The idea that college is expensive is in our common culture, and it’s true. The sticker price (sticker price = the tuition cost and sometimes the room and board costs) of colleges is regularly quoted to give you an idea of the base cost of attending college. Note that depending on your situation, sticker price is not what you should expect to pay when considering discounts and scholarships. However, sticker price is a nice ballpark starting point to calculate costs.
The reality is that there are other costs – hidden or not – that are not quoted in the sticker price. I knew of these additional costs, but an excellent NPR article got me thinking about this more. There are hidden costs, and these costs can be significant if you don’t watch it.
What are the hidden costs of college? The article lists a few of these hidden costs, and I’ve added some of mine in the following list:
- Textbooks – sometimes required for classes
- Travel – how are you going to get to and from college
- Healthcare – you need to be protected if you get sick
- A new laptop – is it really needed?
- Your phone – the plan and the phone are pricey
- Calculator – you can’t use your phone on an exam
- Clothes – you need to wear something
- Coffee – fancy caffeine drinks aren’t cheap
- Alcohol – if you’re of drinking age it can be expensive
- Class supplies – depending on what you are doing you need supplies
- Fees – any club or organization you are a member of might have membership fees
This is an ongoing list/idea that I think we should build and improve on to help others. In a previous article, I talked about the moving list hack that I created to help you automate packing. I’ve added a second page to that document trying to list and estimate additional college costs that you might need to consider. Please consider commenting or writing me with other costs so we can collectively help ourselves and improve on this shared knowledge.
Credits: photo title: So Close; by Bruce Martin
Here are the links this week – Student Loan Debt; STEM and active Learning; Are tenure-track professors better?:
Here’s some related links about college and stuff from the week:
This is my part 1 answer of an unknown number of parts. First off, universities are not the only path towards a career and a good life. For example, if you are predicting the robot/automation job takeover of the future, then you might choose a very different path that focuses on becoming a modern day artisan. On the other hand, our world seems to have an ever increasing need for credentials to get basic jobs (credentialism debates: 1, 2, and 3).
My first answer to this question is from my experiential perspective. Why would I tell my younger self to go to college? The problem with my younger self is I was 18 years old, my brain wasn’t a complete adult brain yet, and I was more interested in music, video games,, parties, and basketball than a field of study. My slight interest in programming and parental insight was enough that I would survive the first two years of engineering.
My answer to that person with this inside knowledge would be, “don’t go to university since you’ll not get the real benefit of those early years”.
And that’s what happened (forward-sight advantage). But on the other hand, those two years of getting through early university courses allowed me to mature, live on my own, and see more of the “real-world” to solidify my desire to learn about computer engineering and take a fulfilling path. Still, I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t have that slight interest to push me forward through the directionless times. Unfortunately, because my passion was not sparked early, I missed out on some ideas and lessons that still hurt me today.
So the answer to the first why is an undergraduate degree is an opportunity for some people to mature and find their path. This happens to many of us. What scares me is that those of us who enter college, pay large sums of money, but then leave because of other factors (no passion, no commitment, financial problems, and life problems) can horribly suffer from this personal experiment.