It’s the end of the semester (EOS) so this will be brief and I make no promises of cogency.
The President has been talking about college and debt a lot lately. Many of us who have been talking about this for years welcome him to the conversation. I, for one, hope that we can eventually stop nibbling around the edges of the issue of education as a profit center and finally talk about the rightness of that construct.
But, today is not that day. Today we’re talking about a series of speeches and legislation designed to protect military families from predatory for-profit colleges and universities.
This connection between the military and for-profits isn’t new. Where there is federally guaranteed education money you will generally find for-profit colleges.
Online technology and accelerated courses were partially developed on models used to accommodate soldiers who often need to start and stop school several times before completing a degree.
President Obama issued a broad range of missives, that include:
- A new requirement that schools participating in the Department of Defense’s tuition assistance program disseminate a “Know Before You Owe” form to help prospective students better understand “critical information about tuition and fees.”
- Better control over which schools are given access to members of the military to prevent the “aggressively and inappropriately targeting military students.”
- A requirement that the Department of Veterans Affairs trademark the term “GI Bill,” preventing outside websites from using the term at will to market to prospective students.
(source: PBS Frontline)
It’s an interesting hodgepodge that shows, one, the difficulties the federal government has with regulating state-bound institutions and that, two, shows that it IS possible to do so.
And that is fascinating because neo-liberalists will lead you to believe that education being a state issue cripples the federal government from regulating higher education and profit. I have always disagreed. First, I come from a people who were chess pieces in the civil war. I have no illusions about the limits of our government. Second, the federal government may not be able to control state chartered institutions but, as these actions show, they CAN control many of the sources of legitimacy in which these institutions trade.
There are some interesting connections to be made to another source of legitimacy I’ve long questioned: EduCause. You may not know them but, I bet, you intuitively trust their product. EduCause administeres and controls the issuance of “.edu” domains to colleges. Have you not ever glanced at a college website to make sure you are at Harvard.edu and not Harvard.com or, God forbid, Harvard.net? You are likely not alone. I’ve witnessed professors teaching undergraduates to sort for such .edu domains when vetting the quality of their online sources and I have done the same thing myself in research.
EduCause is a non-profit like another source of educational legitimacy: accreditation agencies. By trademarking “G.I. Bill” I suspect the White House is trying to exert influence over the use of such public good concepts in the secondary education legitimacy market. It’s an interesting move with the potential for expanded inquiry into how and why so many tertiary agencies have so much authority in higher education. It’s a loophole for-profits have exploited mightily.
All of this leads me to ask: if the United States military needs such far-ranging protection from for-profit colleges why don’t the rest of us?