WickedEye's Quotient

3/30/2006 at 11:01

Bilk.degree.com

These guys aren’t whores.

Or johns. And calling them pimps would be a stretch, unless you assumed that every pimp was a sociopathically indifferent, bloodthirsty swindler who callously capitalized on his position in order to profit from some of the most ignorant and defenseless members of society.

All right- I see your point. Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve known (platonically) a pimp or two, the description above’s accurate but for one particular: pimps aren’t swindlers. The merchandise, such as it is, gets delivered.

So, okay, these guys are pimps. Uber-pimps. In every way described above and then some- except one. They don’t deliver what you pay for- or rather, you pay much more than you should for tricks you don’t want or need.

These guys are the University of Phoenix, which has made exploitation of the laboring masses into an art so fine that it raked in 700 million dollars in profit last year. The fact that most of that money comes from taxpayers (in the form of federal education grants and loans) is just the icing on the cake.

To digress for a moment: I probably don’t need to issue disclaimers on my snobbery any more- it should certainly be clear by now. All the same, I’ll state explicitly that I’m one of the last people on earth who can be objective about online colleges.

I love classes- lectures, homework, syllabi, notetaking, questioning the professor. I’m the annoying, hand-waving know-it-all in the front row whom you hated for asking questions which made the class run overtime, and who increased the material you were responsible for on the exam. I love books- the actual, physical weight of them in my hand; the feel of paper between my fingers as I turn a page. Clearly, I love words and language and writing too.

So, no- I don’t think online colleges come anywhere near offering what I consider to be the elements of a good education.

But that may be bias on my part. Some of the “good” elements in my scenarios are also those I happen to enjoy, and there are a lot of very, very smart people who disagree with me about the ability of online classes to inculcate a thorough understanding of a subject.

Leaving aside that disagreement, however, one thing on which every person to whom I’ve spoken agrees is that, if you choose to take a class, you shouldn’t do so solely because someone who stood to profit from that decision talked you into it.

Remember that $700 million? Do you see the beginnings of a problem here?

Assuming you went to or are going to college: How much did you know about the system of classes, credits, and requirements there at the beginning of your freshman year?

Assuming you haven’t gone: How much do you know about those things- for any college- now?

And for members of either group: Who can you ask about the specifics of a college’s degree requirements without actually being admitted?

I went to Purdue, and up there the answers to the above questions were: Zip. Zilch. Nobody.

Their general information is good, but in order to find out the specifics of a degree program, you have to sit down with an academic counselor for about an hour to chart your course. The same holds true of both the colleges I attended as a postbac student, and of all the graduate programs to which I’ve applied.

Now here’s another hypothetical: Knowing nothing about your chosen program, what if you had to rely for advice and information on someone who was being paid more if you took more- and more expensive- classes?

The ethics are looking even stickier now, aren’t they?

The full Nation article, linked above, is appalling- and not just for snobs like me.

Education as a product- well, my every synapse screams in outrage, but mine is not the popular opinion. Even popular opinion, however, holds that a promised and paid-for product should be shaped and, ideally, delivered by those who don’t stand to profit outrageously, and with impunity, from misleading their customers.

The above modest assessment of the problems involved, by the way, assumes that you’re one of the lucky students who doesn’t have to worry about getting chiseled out of your money. One of the things the Education Department Inspector General’s Office found in its investigation of UoP was that it owed students over $10 million in unreturned tuition payments- in other words, tuition payments it fraudulently kept when it shouldn’t have.

But that, as Kipling would say, is another story.



Blogger Alan said...

the platonic pimps would be a good band name =P
I'll read the article and post something meaningful here at a later date =)  

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Blogger Scientiae said...

Thanks, alan- you're right- but I still like "Severe Tire Damage" better- of course, it'd have to be a punk-rock band.

Lemme know what you think when you read it-  

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