COMMENTARY | Donald Trump was once quoted, “Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.” Comedians could bring up that line as it applies to someone investing their higher education in “Trump University.” But his school is just one of many bad investments in college education, as the data show.
This week, the war on the college scam industry ensnared a celebrity to give the scandal a little glitz. But “Trump University” is merely a symptom of a much wider disease that’s plaguing higher education. And that’s a model that rewards shareholders over students while costing the American taxpayer.
Students attending Trump University paid a lot for Wikipedia-type information from the web and a photo-op with a cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump, according to New York’s Attorney General.
For Trump U’s alleged sins, at least it didn’t bilk the U.S. government. That’s been the job of some other for-profit colleges which have been at the core of the recent health care crisis.
A recent Yahoo Finance interview with Jeffrey J. Selingo, the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, demonstrated where the real problems exist with college dropouts leading to a financial borrowing bubble. And you can find them at for-profit colleges.
Selingo revealed that while for-profit college students made up 13 percent of the total attendees of higher education institutions, they make up half of all cases of student loan defaults. Some of that comes from the higher sticker price (almost as much as non-profit private colleges charge) with little to no aid from the school (a far cry from what non-profit private colleges provide), as well as graduation rates nearly half of what you find at other private and public colleges.
That’s coupled new evidence from state lawsuits showing that those for-profit college placement numbers are wildly inflated, according to a Huffington Post story. Going to a job fair is counted as a job, and menial labor positions are counted as “higher end” careers, according to the investigations.
Proponents of the free market praise these for-profit schools, mostly for their title. But ironically, these schools are heavily dependent upon government subsidies. Selingo showed that 86 percent of for-profit college revenue comes from taxpayers, along with a lot of the education money vets receive. Department of Education numbers confirm that more for-profit college students are forced to borrow than their counterparts at other schools.
For-profit colleges aren’t entirely bad. They focused on attracting students abandoned or overlooked by traditional colleges and universities. Their emphasis on online programs challenged orthodox higher education to get out of their complacent methods and to innovate. For that alone, for-profit colleges should get much of the credit.
But the evidence clearly shows that many of the contemporary problems in higher education can be placed at their doorstep. Whether it’s the policy of maximizing tuition and profit for shareholders, the heavy borrowing from the government, marketing to unprepared students, or using distance learning for adult education where hands-on in-person interactions are needed, or inflating claims of job placement prowess, major reforms are needed for these for-profit schools. And busting Donald Trump’s “school” alone won’t solve the problem.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.