For-profit universities: How to avoid "diploma mill" institutions

For-profit universities: How to avoid "diploma mill" institutions

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As an academic, you may feel somewhat insulated from the profit-driven business world. Certainly, academia has traditionally been regarded as an enclave separated from corporate concerns over profits; one which is supported by governments and individuals and focuses on teaching and research rather than on making money. However, with the huge growth of the education industry over the last few decades, institutions have necessarily become more corporate.

One of the most obvious changes to the industry is the growth of the for-profit university, and academics around the world are considering how this change affects both their jobs, and the future of the education sector.

What are for-profit universities?

Over the last few years, debate has intensified over the role of for-profit institutions in the higher education system. Even as tuition fees rise in the US and elsewhere, more and more people want to become students, especially in this time of economic instability. Investing in education has traditionally been considered a wise and prudent move; as a higher education degree marks out an individual as highly qualified and capable, it is greatly beneficial to their career prospects. However, with tuition fees becoming so expensive that students have to take out huge loans which they may never be able to pay back, some people argue that certain degrees are just not worth the money which students must spend in order to obtain them. This is particularly relevant in the case of for-profit institutions, which charge even higher tuition fees than non-profit institutions.

Some for-profit universities also have a reputation for unsavoury recruiting practises, in which recruiters focus on military veterans, single mothers, and on individuals with low incomes and not much experience in education, then pursue them aggressively. There are also claims that recruiters deliberately mislead recruits by sharing inaccurate job-placement statistics, giving false information about loans and putting unreasonable pressure on potential students.

What's the problem with for-profit universities?

Aside from the issues of tuition fees and recruitment practises, it seems like universities could in theory be run like any other business; they provide a product which consumers want and are willing to pay for. However, a further issue arises with the issue of assessment of students. Students are paying large amounts of money to attend for-profit universities, and so it is in the interest of the universities to keep the students attending. Even if they perform poorly on tests, the universities still benefit from students attending, and some faculty report being put under pressure to pass all students. This has leads to a situation in which for-profit institutions rarely fail students, even if they perform poorly.

Hence there is a lack of trust in for-profit universities among people doing hiring for many jobs: a student may have worked hard and been very successful at such an institution, but it is not possible to tell this candidate apart from a student who performed poorly but was passed anyway. Some HR professionals even advise that candidates who have attended such an institution should leave it off their CVS, arguing that a degree from such an ill-regarded university looks worse than no degree at all. There are problems for the faculty of such institutions too; among teachers and lecturers, some feel that they are taken advantage of and are not free to give honest feedback to their students.

How can you avoid these institutions?

Whether you are a student, a lecturer, or a full professor, you should be wary of for-profit universities and read up on them thoroughly before committing to attend or to work at such an institution. A quick search on Wikipedia should show whether the institution is for-profit or non-profit. You should then look for accurate information about the price of tuition, the pass/fail rate for students, and particularly important, the percentage of graduated students who have acquired a job in a relevant field after graduating. You can also check online reviews to see what comments students have about their experiences at the institution.

We hope that this information helps you to consider your options should you come into contact with for-profit universities. For more news and opinions about developments in academia, check out our website.


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