A Poor Choice of Words

Do for-profit institutions scam students? A recent article by Peter Goodman in the New York Times is very critical of America’s proprietary colleges, arguing that such institutions are taking advantage of the recession, enrolling students who can’t afford more debt in the hopes of attaining jobs for which they probably won’t be qualified. According to the piece:

At institutions that train students for careers in areas like health care, computers and food service, enrollments are soaring as people anxious about weak job prospects borrow aggressively to pay tuition that can exceed $30,000 a year.

But the profits have come at substantial taxpayer expense while often delivering dubious benefits to students, according to academics and advocates for greater oversight of financial aid. Critics say many schools exaggerate the value of their degree programs, selling young people on dreams of middle-class wages while setting them up for default on untenable debts, low-wage work and a struggle to avoid poverty.

The Goodman article makes Career College Association President Harris Miller very unhappy. As he writes on his organization’s Web site:

Our 2.8 million students—primarily working adults, including many veterans—are insulted that the New York Times brands them as “the new poor,” and asserted that they were “lured” into our schools. We are confident current and former senior Washington officials, leaders in the hospitality sector, medical and legal professionals, educators and health care professionals who have graduated from career colleges would take issue with such a characterization.

Miller accuses Goodman of relying “on a few anecdotes to attack the institutions that educated 2.8 million post-secondary students last year.” This a fair critique of the Times article, which was a little short on real, national information about people who attend for profit-schools.

But it does seem odd for Miller to assert that the Times running the for-profit article in its “new poor” series is insulting. Poor is not pejorative. People who attend for-profit colleges either are or are not poor. Let’s see the evidence.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer