Lower Ed: A Series

Twelve years ago I was working in a for-profit college.

Seven years ago I was ashamed of having worked in a for-profit college because I was suddenly surrounded by real academics.

Five years ago I started a dissertation that became, “Becoming Real Colleges in the Financialized Era of U.S. Higher Education: The Expansion and Legitimation of For-Profit Colleges”.

I defended that dissertation a little over a year ago now.

The dissertation and my experiences are the foundation for my first solo book manuscript, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy from The New Press. The book is in production, I’m happy to see it leave me, and I’m nervous to have you read it.

This week ITT Technical Institute is on the verge of collapse. ITT Tech was not just one of the largest for-profit colleges but it was characteristic of the shareholder for-profit college model that defined much of the sector’s expansion this century. Charlie Eaton describes this relationship between shareholder value ownership and key organizational practices in the for-profit college sector as industrial scale recruitment. In my paper with Richard Rubinson, I called the model “structured motivation”. Either way, we’re describing how being a shareholder corporation fundamentally changed the scale, scope and effect of all the org practices in for-profit higher education.

ITT Tech was perhaps the most egregious (or, proliferate) at this among all the shareholder for-profit colleges that used  industrial scale recruitment to structure the motivation of students to quickly and efficiently enroll, often transposing all kinds of legitimacy symbols in the process.

Is that why ITT Tech failed?

Likely not. That’s why ITT Tech succeeded for as long as it did.

ITT Tech failed moreso because of politics and the reality of the labor market.

To understand that relationship it is helpful to know how sociologists who study education and stratification understand how and why higher education expands when it does. Over the next couple of months, as we ramp up for the Lower Ed book release and tour, I’ll dip into my dissertation, recent research, literature and sociological theory to discuss all of this.

We’ll begin with a discussion of higher education expansion, credentialism, why I prefer credentialing theory to explain for-profit highered expansion, and eventually wind our way through legitimacy theory, new economy literature and finally a working bibliography.

Feel free to join in through the comments (I’ll open them back up for this occasion; don’t make me regret that) and on Twitter using #LowerEd.

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Lower Ed, A Series: Part II

ITT Technical Institutes is gone, just like that. A summary: In the wake of devastating federal sanctions, officials from Carmel-based ITT Educational Services Inc. announced Tuesday that all ITT Technical Institute campuses will be closing. In late August, the U.S. Department of Education barred ITT from enrolling new students who depend on federal aid and required the company to warn current studentsRead More “Lower Ed, A Series: Part II”


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