A Play about For-Profit Colleges

Aaron Calafato is a playwright and actor. Like many people who choose that line of work, however, he often had financial problems.

And so he took a job as a recruiter for a for-profit college in Ohio. The experiences he had there led him to become a critic of the industry. Now he’s created a play about it.

According to an article by Goldie Blumenstyk in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Now in a new one-man play called For Profit that Mr. Calafato wrote and performs, the character of “Aaron,” an admissions counselor at For Profit University, wrestles with some of those same moral questions. They include one that Mr. Calafato finds so central to American society right now: “How far will you go for your own economic security?”

An actor by training, Mr. Calafato, 28, says the 75-minute production—which has already been staged in venues in New York City and in the Cleveland area, with future stagings in the works for Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.—is his attempt to translate his yearlong experience through the medium he knows best.

The question Calafato asks is perhaps central to how this whole system functions. Calafato was willing to work as a recruiter for a proprietary college—peddling expensive programs to people who might not be able to service their student loans with the degrees they might obtain—after all, because he himself had student loans, from his time at Bowling Green State University, to pay off. This is what debt does to people. The for-profit college also provided him with health care.

Apparently in the play (which I haven’t yet seen) the actor portrays multiple characters “including the president of the college; the boss, who supervises the admissions counselors; the regional director,” who trains them, a character right out of the boiler room of Glengarry Glen Ross; and students named Javier and T.J.,” according to Blumenstyk’s article.

This is play is one of those enterprises that’s probably not going to go very far as actual theatre. The recruiting tactics of America’s career colleges are not generally a matter of much curiosity to the general public. Still, it looks like it could be a piece worth seeing.

Calafato is apparently financing the play through a crowdsourcing site and he’s looking for grants. He’s hoping to keep the play running for 18 months.

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