Thursday, September 19, 2013

Paying for your education: Students' first interaction

In 1992, the House Committee on Education and the workforce created the 90-10 rule.  The 90-10 rule stated that for-profit universities could qualify for federal student aid eligibility if the school's education was truly valuable that 10% of the students would be willing to pay completely out of pocket for the education.  For profit universities try to focus on career building or having a job immediately after graduation by allowing students great flexibility in graduating within two years.

Proponents of for-profit education generally rely on free market principles.  The argument is that these schools will only succeed if students choose to attend them.  By focusing on the students, they might have better teachers, lower costs, and a thorough education.

Despite the reassuring claims put out there by various for-profit university groups, students are routinely seen as a means to an end, to borrow a Kantian phrase.  Theses ends are usually just an increase in profits or a higher return on investment for the stockholders.  The students are targeted specifically to attend a certain college, misled by employees of the college group, saddled with student loan debt, unable to find a job and default on student loans more often than students attending a traditional university.

Targeting students

If you have a television, you've most likely seen an advertisement for a for-profit university.  Here are a few examples:

Everest College
University of Phoenix
ITT Technical Institute

The 1-800 numbers that are posted connect to a call center or student information center, as they often like to call it.  These call centers do go through a training program that teaches them about the company and company policies.  A marketing director for one of the major for profit universities addresses the training group during the two week long training session.  The marketing director admits to being good at his job.  He explains that each of the commercials that they run are chosen with a specific type of audience in mind.  This for-profit university runs commercials during Jerry Springer and other daytime shows to target those who are unemployed or otherwise at home during the day.  The commercials are also run late at night in case the prospective student happens to be up at night.  These commercials are run on informative cable channels, such as BET and MTV, sometimes Comedy Central.  Additionally, advertisements are run in publications specifically targeting poorer demographics such as the Pennysaver.

If you are running a for-profit university, this is exactly what you'd want to do.  You don't want to waste time advertising for those who already have jobs or their careers started.  I don't really have a problem with this type of recruiting or advertising.

Most who attend a for-profit university are at least 24 years old and the majority of them are unemployed. Many of the students have attended college in the past and found that college isn't right for them.  Since our economy is increasingly dependent on those who have training or education, they find a new reason to try college, again.  For-profit university groups exploit this.

During the training period for the call center for a prominent for-profit university group, associates are told that they are not to answer questions from those who call in.  In the job description, it is explained that associates are not to answer specific questions about any of the various colleges.  The training session is essentially just a time to learn how to creatively avoid a question.  Associates are taught how to avoid answering questions while making the college sound more appealing.  The most important thing, associates are taught, is to capture the lead information and to connect with the student.

Any question that might deter a potential student from attending the university is told not to be answered directly.  A common question associates face is whether or not the school is accredited.  All calls are recorded at this call center.  Associates are told that when accreditation is asked about, it goes into a special recording file and is immediately listened to.  The answer, in case you were wondering, about accreditation is to state that it depends on the college or university and the associate is then supposed to try to gather the necessary information to make sure that the student can be contacted at a later time under the guise of trying to locate the college.

Questions about cost are deferred by saying that it depends on the program and the college and immediately followed by a question trying to change the subject.  Students ask about what they'll receive when they graduate, again it depends.  Prospective students are asked for all sorts of information, including address, phone number, e-mail, but if they ask for any information an associate can't answer.

Associates are asked to know where all of the locations of the colleges and the programs that they offer.  But if a prospective asks if a specific college offers a specific program, they are met with silence or the answer that it depends.  Nothing is guaranteed, in the world of for-profit universities.  Everything depends, students are told.

Associates are asked to recommend online courses if they are offered in the program of interest of the student.  The reason for that is that online courses are much less expensive for the business.

The student is told after giving all of their information that there is not a school in their area, a fact that is known by the associate as soon as they say their address.  But the reason the associates are forced to wait is so they can gather all of the information from the student and be able to contact them later.  A phone number that is typed in to the website is often stored so you can receive a phone call everyday.  The system used to call does not process do not call requests as quickly as people think.  Associates call and offer information to people who showed interest in the school, only to say that they cannot answer the questions that the prospective student asks.

The promise that these groups and associates offer is a better life.  But that is often not the case.

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