This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Colleges Target Vunerable Groups!
As the college class of 2014 – or more realistically the class of 2015 – prepares its annual matriculation to higher education institutions all over the world, in addition to living environment surveys and dubious last minute fees, degree hopefuls are being overwhelmed by discouraging labor force news or perhaps the unsettling realization they have selected the wrong institution. Despite grim forecasts for employment and the skyrocketing fees, the dominant pop culture college narrative still evokes images of ivy greens, bad cafeteria food, crusty, but life-altering mentors and dorm rooms the size of mid size automobiles. Unfortunately, this narrative – in addition to privileging four-year institutions over community college – also minimizes the barriers to higher education faced by countless individuals, particularly if they are not affluent or at least “traditional” in age or life experience.
When the Education Department released a proposal designed to curtail some of the shenanigans of For-Profit colleges I was pretty excited. That is until I actually read the report. The proposal offers little to limit the way in which the billion dollar industry markets itself or the the shady practices it employs to target potential consumers:
Benson Rollins wants a college degree. The unemployed high school dropout who attends Alcoholics Anonymous and has been homeless for 10 months is being courted by the University of Phoenix. Two of its recruiters got themselves invited to a Cleveland shelter last October and pitched the advantages of going to the country’s largest for-profit college to 70 destitute men.
(via Business Week)
For-Profit colleges like University of Phoenix target their marketing towards marginalized groups, specifically subsets within marginalized communities little understanding of the higher educational system. For-Profit colleges exploit their students’ ignorance in areas such as financial aid, accreditation and viability of the degree. In addition, UoP’s parent corporation shelled out a reported $10 million to settle a lawsuit alleging fraud and among other things admissions counselors’ compensation tied to their enrollment numbers!
If that wasn’t enough, another controversy highlighting their deceptive marketing practices was exposed. Those “Obama Has Money For Single Moms” ads, shown on various websites are FAKE. While this might seem like a big “duh” to folks who have benefited from educational opportunities afforded to them courtesy of the kyriarchy, not everyone has been so fortunate. Employing tactics usually observed in other predatory establishments such as check cashing places and sub-prime lenders, these ads distort, mislead and manipulate ill-informed consumers, who are often facing dire economic situations. The dubious ads were not created any For-Profit college, but instead, the intuitions employed lead generators, claiming they were unaware of the tactics used by these companies.
A spokesman for Capella said school officials also “periodically review messaging” used by lead generators, and that they had terminated Capella’s “involvement” with several ad campaigns earlier this year after discovering they were “paraphrasing President Obama.” A spokeswoman for Golden Gate University said the school would “immediately” ask any of its lead generators to stop should they find the marketers using Obama mom ads. The other schools did not comment.
At our request, volunteers asked the lead generators and college recruiters about Obama grants or scholarships for moms. While no recruiter claimed the grants actually existed, they generally did not dispute that they did. More often, said Shepherd, “I was told that a financial aid person could assist me later when I asked about the Obama grants.”
I believe wholeheartedly that college education should be accessible to anyone who desires to pursue one. I also think “legitimate” colleges have dropped the ball in terms of marketing and outreach to underrepresented populations. In addition, the marginalizing of community colleges (hey, I went to a few myself. I seem to have done okay), hampers their ability to provide a strong, viable alternative for those who view cheesy, expensive and predatory fly-by-night colleges as their only educational opportunity. Why they are able to continue their fuckwittage unabated is clear; they are targeting communities nobody gives a shit about. But here’s the thing: As the largest recipient of federal student aid, places like University of Phoenix are exploiting disenfranchised communities while making themselves wealthier with the help of YOUR TAX DOLLARS.