The Stepford academy 1

September 16, 2010

"Just a few rotten apples?" (2 September) accurately and fully addresses the three major issues frequently associated with US for-profit institutions of "higher learning": academic integrity; student recruitment; and student-funding default rates.

I know many individuals who have successfully completed for-profit degree programmes of one kind or another from the University of Phoenix and other such institutions - I helped to read/comment on a doctoral dissertation from a large for-profit not long ago and found it to be cogent and good quality. I sense, however, that the student makes the programme at many for-profits - as well as at public postsecondary institutions.

One concern of mine - maybe just another piece of rotten fruit! - is the potential for the increased commodification of learning that for-profits inadvertently nurture. From their glossy advertising literature and corporate-sounding telephone menus to their precisely packaged curriculum material and learning groups, they have managed to corporatise the teaching and learning process and have helped to impress the "business model" on to public institutions as well.

The simple truth, I believe, is that many "students" want to download their learning experiences like so many MP3 files - and the for-profits know how to deliver the goods. Even so, the not-for-profits have been quick learners in this big money arena, too.

I would venture that the for-profits are at the forefront of public education's adoption of the corporate model - including institutional mission statements that tend to sound very much alike, and the growing inundation of important-sounding (and ambiguous) corporate phrases such as "strategic planning", "market penetration", "branding", "stakeholder satisfaction" - you know the list, I'm sure. And who doesn't notice the ever-present images of happy, attractive and culturally diverse students and staff on each and every web page with a.edu domain? Where do all these happy and well-adjusted people come from, if not the Borg-like mind of some highly paid corporate planner?

The for-profits, and perhaps the public universities, too, have learned to exploit the global corporate citizenry that giddily enjoys this philosophical compost, that nice binary voice emitting from their droid phones when they call the university for "more information about learning programmes".

It is all about the numbers, and any linguist will tell you that "student" is a count noun.

Jeffrey Ross, English instructor, Central Arizona College.

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