And it will be at the cost of students, financial institutions who lend money for tuition when students cannot get jobs from their *diplomas when they graduate and cannot pay back their loans.
We were on a better road before Betsy Devos. President Obama became aware of the abuses of for-profit colleges and universities and set up much stricter regulations. Conservatives don’t like regulations, even though they can save lives–or save a student from enormous student debt and a degree worth little.
The day Nothing Ventured Press published my first mystery, The Purified, in which I announced on the back cover that I was a former NYC call girl, my employer fired me. The book is somewhat biographical–at least my experiences in the sex industry were.
American Public University/American Military University (APUS/AMU) didn’t fire me in any kind of normal way–one that an employer—who has integrity would do—but I received 4 – 5 consecutive emails, each one informing me that an upcoming class was reassigned to another instructor. I wasn’t surprised because of what I had seen in this Pro America-sounding institution. Some students believed the school was affiliated with the government; they were wrong.
When I inquired why they taking away all my classes (every one of them) they told me that I wasn’t qualified to teach them. Except, hmmmm, I had already taught all for the last three years (and with outstanding student evaluations) and what’s more, I was in the middle of teaching a class that they reassigned.
If I was so unqualified, why let me teach it for three years and why allow me to continue in the midst of a term? When I complained about legal action, they were quick to assign me a couple of other classes (that I also had taught before). But by then, I’d had it–for reasons that will become clear, below.
I had been a thorn in the side of American Public University for several years. I began teaching in 2008, after undergoing mandatory training in the fall of 2007: ten years altogether.
I saw many things that made my skin crawl. I wanted them to improve. I wrote emails to administrators, my faculty manager, and our program director. I also wrote to Elizabeth Warren, telling her of the abuses that I saw at that institution—and there are many. Now I’m using my voice and I am no longer under contract with APU/AMU. I’ll keep talking about this issue because we are ripping students off (many of which simply do not have the intellectual capacity to attend school—perhaps they would be better off in a technical/vocational institution). I grew weary of failing students—particularly ones that I liked because they so wanted to succeed. I had to fail them because they couldn’t put a coherent sentence together and somehow they had gotten to upper level classes (which I normally taught).
Because American Public University—and schools like it—are ruining our higher education system and like most changes that worsen our condition, we see it happening, yet no one has the guts to say anything about it until it is too late. Damage done. Kids ripped off. Institutions disbanded. The rinse and repeat.
All the rest adopted the motto (as do most sales departments) of being, “The customer is always right.” In higher education, that is a dangerous road to go down because if we use and apply that adage, then it means that students are customers—and therefore, as customers, they are always right.
If students are always right then where does that leave professors? Those with secure full-time tenured jobs wouldn’t allow that to happen at their brick and mortar schools but For-profit schools aren’t the same. These schools hire few full time professors and rely mostly on the most abused teachers in higher education—the adjuncts, otherwise known as the migrant farm workers of today.
Many adjuncts do to allow plagiarism and all other kinds of abuses—just so they will get those platinum student evaluations, which will allow them to suck up to unscrupulous administrators because they need to feed their kids.They are passing students who cannot write essays. But since many are still paying off student loans, they want to work in the field they worked in which to obtain a degree. I cannot blame them. I’ve been there. I was there up until my marriage because I was paying off 50k of student loans and I had to work.
Now let’s look at the students. Most For-Profit students don’t really think through how high and how quickly these loans start building up. So they leave a for-profit school–which let’s face it, is still not as respected as brick and mortar institutions, and cannot find their promised jobs and now have astronomical interest charges on the education loans they took out. And they are still working at K-Mart.
I witnessed scores of students without the ability to concentrate, and taking classes repeatedly, (I have proof of this). The school allowed them to drop at the last possible moment, just so they could sign them up for the same class again—even though their PTSD was so horrendous that they’d fail the next class. And on it went. Until one day, I noticed I’d had the same student take and fail three classes of mine.
The student—whom I later learned (from him—the school tells you nothing) that this brave young man had been seriously wounded in the war. He was in no condition to go to school. He even wrote me that he told me he couldn’t concentrate: he had PTSD and he didn’t feel he could go to school.
My heart went out to this student. How a military-sounding university care so little for service members who had put their lives on the line (for a lie, it turned out).
And there was more: Rampant Plagiarism—and it was going completely unchecked by the University. When students plagiarize (often—if not usually many times because why change if you get away with a crime?), they ruin the integrity of all higher education, not just ‘for-profit’ schools. I caught the same students plagiarizing multiple times–I had reported them every time, yet nothing was ever done other than to give the student a “first offense warning” (never mind that it might have been MY third report on the student).
The University always pushed us not to report a plagiarism incident but instead, make it a “teachable moment. I can see doing that once for a new student but everyone should know they can’t copy a paper off the Internet!
Repeatedly and for the same students, I was asked to make this a “teachable moment.” How many times do you get to cheat where it is no longer a “teachable moment” but rampant serial cheating? American Public University and schools like it don’t care. They are getting their money so to hell with the students.
The plagiarism was where I drew the line at last. I have integrity. Which meant, no matter how hard it was, how much it broke my heart to do it, and how many tears I shed in the process. Even though I knew that each report I filed went promptly in the shredder, I filed them anyway. I would not be a part of such blatant disregard for the respect of higher education.
The business side of these ‘For-Profit’ universities lures these students into attending based on nothing but promises and lies. There are no guarantees. And I saw countless papers pass through my desk from students who could hardly form a coherent sentence, let alone a senior thesis.
As I said, I have taught online for many years. When I was teaching at another online university, I talked on the phone to a student who couldn’t stop crying. She was working two jobs, trying to support her 2-year-old baby. She was my student, and she was failing my class. We were trying to figure out a way for her to complete the class without having to retake it (and up until the point that I told her she WOULD have to repay to take the class, she’d been ignorant of this important clause in their contract). When I told her this, she burst into tears, saying, “I would have never signed up for this crap program unless I was drunk!”
Now my ears perked up. Huh? Someone signed you up for a university, did all your financial paperwork—and you did nothing while someone signed you up for government loans that she didn’t understand (through either misunderstanding or her drunkenness).
That’s taking advantage of the most vulnerable people in society.
I’m haunted by my years at for-profit universities. You might ask, why did you teach for them? The reason is selfish. I fell in love but we didn’t get married for many years since we’d both had troublesome marriages in the past. I met him the same year I completed my graduate work. Though we weren’t married at the time, my (now) husband is bicoastal; he must work on both coasts because of his job. I didn’t want to be apart from him 50% of the time so online teaching seemed ideal (and it could have been).
Since I changed my life in 1994, I have tried, with all my might, to live a life of integrity and compassion, yet I failed all those trusting students. I apologize to every one of you. I needed the money. I loved teaching all of you (that was always real) but I never meant for your American dream to end in a nightmare.