One of the innovative ways the for-profit schools managed to cut costs has to do with the staff they hire. Unlike at traditional schools, for-profits tend to hire professors part-time, to teach single classes here and there. Great business plan, perhaps not so great for the professors. According to an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed:

Instructors at the Art Institute of Seattle on Friday filed signatures with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a union election with the goal of affiliating with the American Federation of Teachers.

The move could be significant for several reasons. The major unions that organize faculty members in the United States have largely stayed away from the growing for-profit sector. If the AFT is successful, some labor experts believe that academic unions could find fertile ground in for-profit higher education (and plenty of academics in nonprofit higher education would like to see that happen).

What’s particularly interesting about this union drive is that the professors aren’t demanding improved wages and benefits. Apparently the main reason Art Institute of Seattle teachers decided to organize had to do with the power they have over their own classes. According to the article, “union organizers say that they are pressured to give (undeserved) high grades and to pass some students who should fail.” Instructors are trying to unionize in part just to get the power to give students the grades they think students deserve.

Education Management Corporation owns the Art Institute of Seattle and several other schools, including Argosy University.

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