The State of For-Profit Education in The United States

What does ITT Tech’s forced close mean for American education?c

For-profit educational institutions are creating a precarious predicament for our nation’s upwardly mobile, diluting the brand of American education in the process.

What does ITT Tech’s forced close mean for American education?

Instilled from the beginning with a Protestant work ethic, reaping the rewards of its proliferation, Americans have always been among some of the hardest-working people in the world. As a result, Americans have always strived to achieve academic excellence, to be leaders, not only in their communities, but around the world. Americans choose to attend college not because it is required, but because they hope to improve their salary, quality of life, and their society as a whole. As a result, the United States has become over-saturated with institutions of higher learning, some good, and some, well, not so much. One type of higher learning institution that has received more negative backlash than almost any other has been the for-profit college. A for-profit college is defined as an institution of higher learning run by businesses, rather than a non-profit, government-subsidized institution, like most colleges and universities in the United States.

These institutions have a bad habit of preying on the socioeconomically disadvantaged, many of whom were tricked into believing their education at one of these institutions would the quality of one at a state university. But as recent evidence suggests, these for-profit colleges have been less-skilled at producing productive citizens and much better at swindling money away from hard-working individuals, many times going as far as to skew the job statistics of their students who are getting hired in fields in which they were awarded degrees to make their product appear more desirable. However, the attention given to these institutions has catalyzed a crackdown on these practices that has finally begun to garner results. Case in point, ITT Tech.

ITT Tech is — or, should I say, was — a for-profit college specializing in technological and engineering fields that enrolled over 35,000 students, among them some of our nation’s most hardworking, struggling citizens. These people paid ITT Tech tuition in hopes of earning an esteemed degree, in part due to misleading statistics. That was, until ITT Tech closed its doors for good. The college/company-stated that its decision to close down was due in part to the Department of Education’s recent decision to prohibit ITT Tech from receiving federal educational loans. This of course will help incentivize students to attend non-profit institutions, where the price-tag is government-assisted. However, all of this begs the question, why did the DOE make this decision?

According to the DOE itself, the decision came following a wave of backlash after unsatisfied enrollees decried Tech’s practices as fraudulent as they were left with piles of debt, no degree, and, worse, no legal recourse. These sentiments were created because many had been tricked into signing dubious college enrollment contracts, essentially throwing away their legal right to bargain. But unfortunately those who have been exploited by for-profit education haven’t been just the average college kid, veterans have also been exploited at the hands of for-profit colleges. Typically, for-profit colleges were held to what is known as the “90 to 10 rule” meaning they can only take in 90 percent of their tuition money in the form of federal aid. This is, up until the DOE’s recent ruling that is. However, this rule didn’t apply to veterans going to school through GI Bill programs.The result was a loophole that led veterans to attending these for-profit institutions and wasting their GI money on degrees that most businesses don’t view as prestigious, all while the for-profit industry raked in veteran benefit money. In fact, ITT Tech’s closure has particularly impacted veterans. Veterans, and regular enrollees alike, have been left displaced in the newer (yet equally gargantuan) Education Industrial Complex, and they do not know where to complete their degrees, assuming their credits earned at ITT Tech will even transfer over at all to whichever new university they decide to attend.

Making matters worse, for-profit colleges represent half of all student loan debt defaults in the United States. This further displays the uselessness of a for-profit education. Seeing how many were left unable to pay their debts because they didn’t get a high enough paying job from the degree they earned, many wonder as to whether or not the $1.2 trillion dollars in student loan debt might be of the same sub-prime quality that collapsed the housing market in 2008. Although the education market is much smaller than housing, a market bubble of this size bursting would still have horrific impacts on the US economy. However, unlike the housing market, the destruction of our higher education system would likely mean less and less Americans getting educated, hurting the American society, and America’s standing around the world.

ITT Tech’s motto was “an education for the future.” However, the future of ITT Tech, and moreover, for-profit colleges altogether, seems to be murky. And despite an improved job market, young adult and millennial unemployment in 2014 alone was at a whopping 7.7%. This has left many feeling, and rightfully so, disenfranchised and discouraged while looking at future job prospects in a market that is supposedly recovering. With more issues arising amongst our higher education system than ever before, we are left asking the question of whether receiving a degree is worth it? Does a college degree carry the same clout as it did for our parents? These are terrifying questions that no one wants to ask and questions that nobody has the answers to yet, but the red herrings of for-profit universities don’t help the matter. Only time will tell, but if ITT Techs closure is a sign of things to come, education in the US may stay murky for a long time.