For-Profit Universities

Joseph Stiglitz claims that for-profit universities are better at “exploiting” than at educating (Huffington Post sums it up here).

I can buy that for-profit universities are taking advantage of the fact that student loans (now only issued publicly, I believe — all my debt was issued by the government) cannot be cleared through bankruptcy.  It is a good guarantee that your income won’t suffer from a sudden inability to pay from your clients.  But, here the problem with government policy, not for-profit universities.

However, I don’t buy the argument that for-profit universities necessarily deliver an education of lesser quality.  They might award the student with a degree that is worth less, but this is not the same as a bad education.  I don’t think it’s controversial that the weight of some school’s degrees don’t correlate with the quality of learning, and this is evident in that while a degree from Harvard might be preferred to a degree from San Diego State University, I don’t think the (average) student from the latter necessarily knows less or is less prepared for any given job.  So, when a degree holder from a  for-profit university finds that the paper doesn’t hold the same weight as the equivalent paper from UCSD, it’s not because of the quality of the education (the employer probably couldn’t tell you the difference) but because of how people perceive the different institutions.

And if the “exploitation” is so bad, I wonder why these universities’ clientele aren’t aware of it.  Or, why do they choose to be “exploited” rather than not pursue higher education at all?  Maybe many students make mistakes, but it’s hard for me to believe that there isn’t a good reason for so many people to opt to pay the high prices of for-profit colleges.  I know quite a few people who have chosen to go down this path, and they don’t seem to fit Stiglitz’ description of the “exploited.”

2 thoughts on “For-Profit Universities

  1. Bob Roddis

    EVERYONE should be taught the basics of legal claims, civil and criminal, before getting a high school diploma. This would include knowing all of the elements of most crimes and torts and how to write and file a complaint in court. It should also include the basics of contract drafting. Then, if you are still too dense to negotiate a contract with a university and/or don’t know how to sue the university for breach or fraud, you probably don’t belong in a university.

    Stiglitz’ argument is just more evidence that even “progressives” know that nothing is taught at government schools. But that’s only because we don’t spend enough on “education”.

    1. Jonathan Finegold Catalán Post author

      I’m not sure that universities defraud students. In fact, my experience is the other way. I just think that Stiglitz overvalues the quality of an education at a private/public university (vs. a for-profit college) and undervalues the reasons why people might choose to go to a for-profit institution.


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