Dee Snider, Bill Clinton and the term “for-profit”
The timing made it seem even more surreal. The night before, I’d had drinks at a bar inside the Palazzo hotel and casino with Dee Snider of Twisted Sister. Actually, I did the “drinking” while he finished an iced coffee. At lunch the following day, I sat about 50 feet away from Bill Clinton as he spoke about his activities since leaving the White House, which at that time were reading about breakthroughs in neuroscience and the relief efforts he’d led in South America.
To top it off, this happened at the career college sector’s largest annual convention, at that time hosted by the Career College Association (now the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities or APSCU). It was an interesting 12 hours or so, to say the least. You can imagine how different those conversations were – Bill and Dee have a lot of very different questions on their minds, and they both aren’t shy about searching for solutions. They are seekers, by nature, and they use delivery and language to make points in vastly different ways.
Along time ago – i.e. two years ago in the career education sector – I interviewed an executive who believed the most critical obstacle for career colleges to overcome brash publicity and change perceptions was for the sector to lose its “for-profit” label. The language, he said, was a critical component to the ongoing dialogue to cast the sector in a negative light.
His rationale was that all schools must turn a profit to survive, no matter what their tax status might be. I agree 100 percent with the point that the language we use insinuates a great deal about the subjects we’re discussing. Any conversations in which career colleges are referred to as being primarily “for-profit” in nature seemingly shrouds the sector in darkness. The insinuation is that career educators care only about money, not students. And no matter what someone says once they’ve used that terminology, they’ve conceded that career colleges are somehow different in motivation.
The most substantial difference – and perhaps the only one that bears mentioning – is the focus of career schools. The mission they employ is to provide career-specific training ultimately with the hopes of landing their graduates a job. Traditional colleges and universities make no such promise, and by not doing so, avoid the wrath of the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule.
The truth is, while the media and the government have made their best efforts to slander career colleges and their share of financial aid dollars, the majority of Americans don’t think of colleges in terms on for-profit or not-for-profit. That designation only applies within the higher education sector, and it’s been the a wondrous trick of the sleeve that traditional schools have executed to keep the discussion based on money when it comes to career schools and the delivery of education in regard to their sector.
The “for-profit” moniker is intended to be derogatory. The terminology is intended to make you feel poorly about your work – if you should be involved with career education in some facet. Your only concern is to get students in, shuffle them through school, collect their financial aid money and graduate them into oblivion (or so the government and the media has told you.)
But if you do have the good fortune to work with or inside a career college, you know that what drives you couldn’t be further from someone else’s truth. You know the enormous challenges career college students face, not only in deciding to pursue and education, but in pushing through to the finish line once enrolling.
The fact that anyone could distort what you do for a living so greatly should just be additional motivation to carry on with the good work that you do. While changing the discussion would be ideal – and could certainly help straighten out the perspectives of some elected officials who continue to look down on the sector – you can bring about your own change by refusing to use the term.
In my opinion, career educators are also seekers. They seek to help people turn their lives around with the power of education. No one should be allowed to slander that goal. I’ve always thought it a noble one. We define our own realities, in some cases with the language we use. The career education sector’s identity should be something more respectable than it is.
What's your opinion of the career education sector? What should it be? How can we change it?