For-Profit Colleges Are a Scam

UPDATE, 10 September:

Economics professor and New York Times columnist Susan Dynarski shows how much student debt has skyrocketed with the rise of for-profit universities:

ORIGINAL, 26 March:

The logic of capitalism insists that everything be privatized and run for profit.

The fact of the matter, however, is many things cannot and should not be commodfied and operated on a for-profit basis.

Education is certainly one of these things. British comedian John Oliver exposed for-profit universities as corporate scams in a late 2014 episode of his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The following is a summary of the findings of his research team.

31% of all student loans are from for-profit schools, even though only 13% of students go to for-profit schools.

Approximately 1/4 of the average for-profit university’s revenue is in marketing. Just 10-20% is paid to faculty. In other words, most for-profit colleges spend two times more on marketing than they do on teachers.

Past workers at these institutions have quit in protest of their exploitative policies. These whistleblowers have confessed that for-profit universities tell recruiters to exploit potential students’ psychological “pain points” in order to try to convince them to enroll.

This is a slide from a powerpoint presentation for-profit university recruiters receive in training:

pain point for profit university

Oliver explains, “That photo is from Marathon Man, where Laurence Olivier famously played a Nazi torturer. And it’s maybe not saying much for your business model if your essential logic is, ‘Hey guys, this worked really for the Nazis, let’s at least give it a go.'”

Students who graduated from a Corinthian Colleges nursing program cannot find a job. An alumna being interviewed explained “I’ve been on countless interviews and they all ask if I’ve ever been in a hospital. And I would have to tell them, we’ve never set foot in a hospital. Ever. … We went to a museum of Scientology for our psychiatric rotation.”

Yet, as Oliver notes, “Scientologists do not believe in psychiatry. Their museum is literally called ‘Psychiatry: an Industry of Death.'”

Graduates of the nursing program at Corinthian Colleges, who never stepped foot into a hospital

Graduates of the nursing program at Corinthian Colleges, who never stepped foot into a hospital

Corinthian pressured John Oliver’s program to make “clear and extensive note of subsequent events.” So he did so: He made it clear that, after a government investigation proved the for-profit schools to essentially be a fraud, the company closed and sold all of its almost 100 US schools.

For-profit schools are also exploiting veterans, and using legal loopholes to essentially take their money. In 2012-2013 alone, for-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits.


Ashford University, a for-profit school, sent recruiters to a “wounded warriors” barracks at a Marine base in North Carolina and was signing up soldiers with brain injuries who could not even remember what classes they were in.

“I will say this for for-profit schools: They’ve just given us all a first class education in the depths of human depravity. We all have a diploma in that now.”

For-profit schools do more than give us all a first class education in the depths of human depravity; they give us all a first class education in the depths of the depravity of capitalism. The profit motive is precisely what leads to this depraved human behavior.

As renowned journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson (a libertarian socialist who was a big fan of Marx and Che and said “I have in recent months come to have a certain feeling for Joe Hill and the Wobbly crowd who, if nothing else, had the right idea. But not the right mechanics. I believe the IWW was probably the last human concept in American politics”) explained, “the free enterprise system [i]s the single greatest evil in the history of human savagery.”

For-Profit Online Universities

The digitization of education is part and parcel of this neoliberal attack on non-profit (and especially public non-profit) universities. In this model, capitalist logic is normalized: students are treated as customers, and the idea is to maximize the number of customers, I mean students. Online classes allow one to do this.

Some former The Onion writers created brilliant satire of for-profit online “universities.”

One of the graduates of this fictitious university says it all in her endorsement of the for-profit online school: “We use technology to develop tools to allow businesses to connect to global solutions.”