Two items in today’s news serve as cautionary tales for all of us working in the education sector. The first, of course, is about the university admission bribery scandal now engulfing a number of marquee-name institutions. While no great surprise–perhaps only in that someone finally got caught–such behavior on the part of striving parents and unscrupulous middle men makes sense given the inordinate (and, we believe, unfounded) importance many attach to elite university acceptance. Raise the stakes high enough and unethical and illegal behavior will follow. It always has and always will. Maybe this will force some in the industry to finally examine the tacit complicity between universities, admissions advisors, and parents to perpetuate a myth.
The second is the lesser-followed story of the Argosy University demise. Argosy, a multi-state, for-profit school focusing narrowly on degree preparation for specific fields of work (psychology prominent among them) should be a shining example of the beneficial effects of bringing big business into higher education. Instead, like others before, Argosy is leaving its students scrambling to find other schools willing to accept them and, eventually, confer degrees based in part on work already done.
The university admission scandal harkens back to the Sanford Weill and 92nd Street YMCA preschool debacle, and is a terrific example of the toxic effect greed, anxiety and plutocracy brings to life. Unfortunately, what this iteration illustrates is that, unlike the title of the NY Times article in 2002, this is not a uniquely New York story. The Argosy story illustrates why the culture of for-profit business fits education so poorly. When Circuit City collapsed, electronics consumers could go down the street to Best Buy or Micro Center with only a minor inconvenience (the same, though, could not be said about employees). Argosy’s students are left scrambling with much higher stakes.