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Mpls, MN, United States

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Saturday, November 12, 2011


So this fall I've been teaching an Art Appreciation class at a for-profit college. I feel very conflicted about this, because I really think their model is despicable. Ideals about what one can accomplish, what knowledge one can impart and creativity one can inspire fade fairly quickly in an environment where half one's students are functionally illiterate. What's worse is that this college is happily taking their money (federal student loans most, if not all, of it) without any apparent consideration of whether the students can read, speak English, or consider the implications of the debt they'll be incurring--even if they can miraculously get a degree and a job out of the deal.

And I'm complicit in the system! I can tell myself that at least I'm offering them quality instruction--but much of the time, even when I'm dumbing it way down, I don't know how much they're actually getting. I have all sorts of lofty ideas about teaching students how to see, but as I said, those tend to fade quickly.

Anyway, I was just going to mention how I had to teach today instead of yesterday because of the holiday--information I only learned, from my students, LAST Friday. So today we got one hour into class before we got kicked out, by the class that regularly meets there on Saturdays--surprise! Two of my students also had to leave their own Saturday class early to come to mine.

However, it's clear that this school has much more significant problems than their poor scheduling and communication. As I said, the whole model is broken. I do love my students, but I'll be glad to be done.


Leah said...

I find the whole system of for profit schools both sad and fascinating. It seems to speak to the place that a college degree has taken in US society: perhaps the for-profit degrees can be compared to the GEDs acquired by previous generations in their bid to be competitive for jobs?

The desperate desire for college degrees can then be compared to the way I judiciously omit my advanced degree when I'm looking for a "regular" job. Nobody wants to hire someone with a master's degree either. It's a BA or nothing, it seems.

Your info about the illiteracy is pretty scary too.

CëRïSë said...

Yeah, the demand for a degree is definitely part of the fuel for these institutions. Unfortunately, it seems like the students aren't actually college material; if they were, they'd know to at least apply to a community college over this for-profit racket. Instead, they're taken advantage of, with recruiters who get them hooked up with loans and make promises about hand-holding and special care. (Granted, I've never worked at another institution where students get a call from their academic specialist if they miss class...)

But again, if you're not really college material, even the dumbed-down curriculum will be a struggle. You'll probably be passed along, but even if you end up finishing with a "degree," it will be a marked one.

Oh, and as far as illiteracy, I got this e-mail last week, in response to one I'd sent confirming that class was meeting Saturday, rather than Friday:
"Hi ceri Myres is it that the makeup stand for saturday and how is it going to be than if we are to do it?" Granted, he's a non-native speaker. But I have no idea what he was even asking.

BrianV said...

This is strikes a nerve for me on many levels. First, that for-profit education could actually be worse than public or non-profit education. But I guess in the end, its not surprising, since the model is about making money, not empowering students. It's just sad to see people biting the hook that's thrown to them, especially when so many new graduates can't get even get jobs in today's economy--much less jobs that pay living wages and provide health benefits.

Secondly, I know what it's like to work in an environment where leadership doesn't value structure and good communication. There is a large pool of leaders from previous generations that have operated this way their whole careers, made good money, and become quite comfortable with their systems (or lack thereof).

Then some of us young hot shots show up with ideas on how to bring more structure and better communication to improve efficiency, and are met with an "I have experience and know this won't work" attitude. Sorry, its not that it won't work, its that its easier for you not to change. Its easier to spend your day running around putting out fires than to accomplish something meaningful. Establishing a fire prevention system and empowering your employees to know how to handle their own situation might leave you with time to do something more meaningful and uncomfortable. Why do that, when you can keep the status quo and the paychecks will keep coming?

Alright--enough blogging on other people's blogs. I need to stay focused on practicing what I preach. :)

CëRïSë said...

Brian, exactly: when you're accountable to your shareholders, rather than to your students or to the academic community, quality of education takes the hit.

And wow, your work situation sounds ridiculously stressful. I hope the old guard steps down soon, or opens up to new ideas...

BrianV said...

I should clarify, I have worked more than one job and under more than one boss over the past several years--I'm not wanting to specify a specific job or boss--but merely say that that kind of work environment exists--I've experienced it, and have many friends my age who have similar experiences.