Sorry to have dropped off the radar a lot happened in a very short time, and I will provide a quick catch up. Since I work for an elementary school the first couple weeks are hectic. At the time I was also trying to get into graduate school as our financial situation hit an all time low. I got into grad school but because of some communication issues, I was given two days advanced notice that I got in and that classes were starting. Somehow I managed to get all the books I needed and just barely made the electric bill (and there was some massive concern that I would not). Needless to say, my experiences have lead to the inspiration for my post.
When I talk to people and bring up the term For-Profit College one of the first things they think of is rip off. In some ways, I cannot say they are wrong. The cost of these colleges is high and because of the nature of business, corrupt practices develop. However, for all their “evil” they also have traits that a traditional school doesn’t that cannot be overlooked. Usually, I make lists; I am going to do a running narrative of my academic career to give perspective on these systems and just how terrible things have become.
I got into high school super excited. My grades had been awful in Middle School because I was bullied and bored but entering high school I was determined to do the best I could. When I walked into my first science class, I was super excited to see lab equipment! When the first class started, I quickly realized that I was far ahead of the class. After class, I went up to the science teacher and asked if I could test out of the subject we were on and to learn something new. He proceeded to give me the long drawn out “have to cater to the average” speech and dashed my hopes at learning. I never went back. My determination to learn new things lead me to administration where I begged for a way to speed up the process. The counselor told me about the district’s independent study program. I was sold immediately because I knew even if I had to learn things I already knew I could fly through it and move on to college where I could take classes I could sink my teeth into. The counselor warned me that the program had a pass/fail system. Unfortunately, no one ever explained the GPA system schools used and that passing wasn’t an “A” it was a “C.” I got through high school in three years flying through my school work. When I got out, I knew exactly where I wanted to go to college.
Walking onto the campus was amazing! It was lovely, and the library was amazing. It was just a tour, but I was there to talk to the college about the processes I needed to go through to apply. Little did I know I would leave holding back tears. Now, when I pushed through high school while working and still got out a year early, now I learned the ugly truth. All my hard work to get to my dream school didn’t mean a damn thing because I had a straight “C” average. I was told I should look into community college for a few years to raise my GPA. Pushing back tears I gave myself the pep talk that my dream school was not out of the question I just needed to go somewhere else first. It wasn’t an end just a bump in the road.
Community college was amazing, but they lacked resources a full college could provide. I was working full time and trying to go to school. Funding was a severe problem, so I was paying out of pocket. Soon enough I ended up homeless. Working full-time, going to school full-time and sleeping in my car something had to break, and it was my grades. Classes depending on testing I got B’s in but if a class required homework as part of their grading I failed spectacularly. At that point, I gave up. I was sick all the time, and my dreams of learning blew away on the wind of survival.
Giving up on going to college was like giving up on life and depression slowly settled on me like a blanket. It was to the point that when my son was born, I hated myself for being selfish enough to have him. How could I bring a child into the world that was nothing but pain? Then he was diagnosed with autism. I coped with it the way I have always coped with anything challenging in my life, and I started to study. Suddenly the idea of college popped back into my head. It didn’t matter if I failed the classes or not it was about getting the information I needed. If I failed, that was fine because by then I would have drilled that school of every piece of information about what books to read and where I could find information for myself.
At that point, my husband was in the military, and I had spoken with several military wives who had lost classes to transferring schools when they moved. It was for this reason that I chose an for-profit online school because no matter where I moved, I could still attend classes. There was one major difference between the first time I went to college and the second, this time; I had a stable home. I went to school full-time, worked a job, managed my son’s therapy schedule and volunteered for a local environmental group. When I graduated with a 3.95 GPA, I was thrilled. I had a BS in Psychology specializing in ABA Therapy. My husband had just gotten out of the military and had given me his GI Bill so I could go to grad school. For the second time in my life, I let myself give into the thought of going to a brick and mortar school. I was a fool!
Lab experience, every brick and mortar school wanted it, and I loved the idea of going to get it. I looked into a program at a local college, but it was for those still getting an undergrad, so I did not qualify. Everywhere I looked there was lab experience IF I was able to volunteer. With my husband having just been separated from the military before a pension due to cut backs we were struggling. I had to go to work, and my son had gotten to a point where he needed me in the afternoons. With housing becoming a problem for the second time in my life I had to choose and with my son, it was no choice. I had to work. That did not stop me from applying to colleges but with financial issues, I could not afford a lot of applications so I restricted myself to those who did not require the GRE so I could cut down on cost. Interview after interview I was a rejection. Finally, the last interview came, and I knew it was going to be another dismissal, so I got bold. When they asked if I had any questions and I pushed for them to tell me bluntly and critically about how my interview went and where my flaws were. My biography was too personal because there was not enough professional experience in it. I interviewed flawlessly, but even though this school did not require lab experience many of the applicants had it because other schools required it and it put me at a distinct disadvantage. In short, the college loved that I came from a non-traditional background, but it didn’t matter because I still had to meet the minimum requirements.
Tears again, so many tears I felt like I would drown in them. All I ever wanted to do was learn, and I had suffered and would suffer more than most to achieve that. In the last few classes I took I ended up with gallstones, and I voluntarily chose to live with them until I was no in classes so surgery would not affect my academics. A month filled with moments of feeling so bad that in the moment death seemed like a blessing and a few ER trips just to get drugs to stop the pain. Everyone told me “just volunteer” but while I was willing to suffer to achieve my goals I could not risk my sons home for it. There had to be a line, and I would have been beaten to within an inch of my life to see my dream, but I would not let it hurt him. Once again I gave up on my dream of a brick and mortar school, and it was all the worse for picking the dream back up. Worse, the GI Bill gives housing money based on the zip code of the school, so if a school had taken me in then, the very reason I could not get lab experience in the first place would have vanished.
Back into the for-profit college system, I went, and I got into a grad school program so fast my head spun. The cut in money for housing was extreme. If I went to a brick and mortar school in this area, I would have gotten $1,700 more than I would be attending school online. I had looked forward to going to grad school and not having to work a job also but focusing entirely on my academics. That was now right out the window. Why couldn’t I get into a traditional school? Why were these for-profit schools viewed so badly when they would give people a chance that a regular school wouldn’t.
In studying schools, one thing came up a lot, graduation rates. A school’s success is determined by their graduation rates. If a school is successful, it is a high rate. Then I started thinking about that and realized how evil it was. If I wanted to make a school that was “successful” then the first thing I would need to do was determine the group that was most likely to graduate. Good grades in school, experience in the field outside of academia, basically all the things these schools set as minimum requirements. Then I would only accept those who could meet those standards, and if there were a spacing issue, I would eliminate those who seemed the least qualified. Schools do not want to spend resources on someone who is going to drop out and make their school look bad. However, these practices negatively affect those from low-income families and those from non-traditional backgrounds.
Suddenly graduation rates took on a whole new appearance in my eyes. Low graduation rates could indicate a bad curriculum or a school that is scamming the students. It could also indicate a school that gives an opportunity to those who would not otherwise have one. The ones who don’t meet the basic standards for the other schools who are a risk to take. They give something valuable to people in my position, a chance! Of course, this is where we also start falling into the predatory nature of for-profit schools. These schools prey on the fact that these are students who come from communities where they have no other choice. It doesn’t matter the price tag they put on it because now students are paying the extra price tag just to get in the door. Like paying a bribe to the doorman at a club. Because these demographics are more likely to fail, they get hit with huge amounts of debt for trying to succeed and failing.
My hometown is an affluent area, so I have heard all the arguments. Students should have gone to a traditional college. They should have worked harder. They completely ignore the fact that for many people they are working as hard as their bodies will let them. I am keenly aware that I could have abandoned my family and let them live on the streets. I could have let CPS take my son away for neglect because I chose to go volunteer instead of taking care of my son. What I could not have done was live with myself after.
Traditional colleges speak to how much they love non-traditional students and will speak out about their efforts and inclusion. However, getting a lucky few and putting them on pedestals while turning your back on the rest is like having a token black friend.
I still love college, and I want to teach at one someday. However, they have HUGE problems. For-profit colleges are horrid in many ways, but some of the hate we as a society feels toward these schools should be directed at the public colleges. It is the exclusionary practices of these schools that force hard working good students to run into the arms of financially abusive institutions. I know I am financially screwed over, and I am still going to my school. Why? I want to help those with autism, and I don’t care if it cripples me financially for the rest of my life because these individuals are in need. I wanted to get into neuroscience and do research, but now I am having to take a different path and get a Masters in Psychology focusing on ABA. However, if I can make a name for myself in the community, the areas I want to research can still get done even if I have to partner with a neuroscientist and give them most of the credit for the research. It doesn’t matter as long as the research gets done. I just wish wanting to help didn’t hurt so damn much!