Anyway, I haven't "known" C.Cryn Johanssen for two months yet, having discovered her blog only in June. However, she has already become someone I respect for her dedication to the cause of student loan indebtedness and other problems that follow in its wake.
To wit, I want to discuss two related issues I found in two recent posts of hers. One is for-profit schools; the other is veterans in colleges and universities.
Having experience with both, I can say they are intimately related.
I have taught, and may teach again (Gotta pay the bills, ya know?) in a for-profit university that is generally considered one of the better ones in the business. I will try not to draw too many and too broad generalizations about for-profits from my experience at one school; however, that school has much in common with other for-profits, and the thoughts I will express in this post will be based, in part, on those commonalities.
And, in my many years of teaching, I've had a number of students who were veterans of the US Armed Forces. During my first year, I taught young men who'd just returned from Gulf War I (a.k.a., Desert Storm); since then, I've worked with veterans of Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to students who served but didn't see combat.
Most of my teaching has been in public institutions (mainly in the City and State University systems of New York), where there are usually more veteran students than there are in private institutions. In the two private universities in which I've taught--New York University (NYU) and Long Island University--I didn't see any veterans. However, it seemed that there were disproportionate numbers of former members of the military in the for-profit college in which I taught.
I've since learned that the other for-profits also enroll large numbers of veterans, particularly those who have recently been discharged or are on inactive reserve status. And I've wondered why this is so.
One explanation has to do with the nature of veteran students and their lives. Now, what I'm going to say comes from great respect for those students. Although I have opposed American involvement in all of the wars I've mentioned, and I think the only real advancement the human race can make is to get rid of war, I have always enjoyed having current and ex-military personnel in my classes. They offer perspectives that most other college students (and faculty and administration!) don't have, and they are invariably polite, respectful and thankful for any help you give them. Plus, if there's anything good to be said about the military, it's the task-orientation it instills in its recruits; if they missed class or an assignment, they had extenuating circumstances.
On the other hand, students who are, or who have recently been, in the military tend not to have very strong academic backgrounds, to put it mildly. I'm not saying they don't have the ability to make it through college; some simply don't yet have the skills. Most of the time, I believe, that is a result of their non-academic backgrounds: Most were poor and many were jobless when they joined the Armed Forces. Being poor, whether in the projects or in the landscape of abandoned silos and smokestacks, they attended poorly-funded and -staffed elementary and high schools that couldn't or didn't detect, much less address, some of the problems they had. Those problems, for some, include learning disabilities such as dyslexia, but more commonly, other things induced by the dysfunction of their families and communities.
I am not simply repeating stereotypes here; everything I've said, and will say, about military and ex-military students comes from what they themselves told me.
In any event, those students, some of whom entered the military with G.E.D.'s (which, everyone knows, aren't, in spite of the name, equivalent to regular diplomas), would find it difficult, if not impossible, to go to the more prestigious (whether or not that prestige is justified) colleges and universities. Also, some of them may have had a specialty, like electronics or security, in the military and want to parlay it into a lucrative civilian career. For-profit schools sell themselves, in part, on actual or implicit promises that they can help their students do exactly that. Thus, those schools are very attractive to current and former members of the military.
Now, I don't see anything particularly wrong with a school marketing itself in such a way. However, those for-profit schools--including the one in which I taught--are, as often as not, padding their employment statistics. For example, the school in which I taught claimed that something like 90 percent of its graduates were working in the field in which they studied within six months of graduation. The rub is that many graduates--including members of the military--were already working in jobs in their fields while they were in school, or returned to positions they held before they started attending school. Also, as we know, a job "related to the field of study" can be very, very broadly defined, to say the least.
In addition to the fact that for-profits take in students other colleges won't touch and make actual or implicit claims about employment, there is another way in which the for-profits scam vetarans in particular. While the schools may be approved by the Veterans' Administration (how, I don't know) and their benefits may cover the tuition, the students who come in uniform, or just after having traded said uniforms for "civvies," have to pay fees of one kind and another that are not covered by their VA benefits. Those fees are often steep: As an example, students in the for-profit in which I taught had to pay nearly a thousand dollars a year in "technology fees" (The nearest community college had much more advanced and user-friendly systems!) as well as "student activity" and other fees. That, of course, is in addition to various materials students have to buy. And then there are living expenses. If the GI student is out of work, that means borrowing in order to live.
Everything I've described wouldn't be quite so galling if it weren't for the fact that veterans finish (and don't finish) college at about the same rates as civilians. And, as you all know, once you're out of school, you have to start paying those loans. But what makes things worse for veterans who attend for-profit schools is that their courses and degrees aren't held in the same esteem by employers as those of other colleges. Indeed, a veteran--or nearly any other student--who attends a for-profit college can get (arguably) a better education and have better prospects for gaining employment or continuing his or her education by attending almost any community college. Plus, he or she wouldn't owe as much money, if any at all.