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addabook - Lower Ed
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Lower Ed
The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy
Tressie McMillan Cottom
read on August 26, 2018

This book came and went so quickly, and with so little impact on me, that I almost forgot to write it up here. It was was a fine book, and by and large I agreed with every word of it - but I didn't find a lick of it surprising at all, which just made it broadly pretty uninteresting.

The main points are:

  1. For-profit schools are a horrible scam. They (obviously) aren't structured with the student's best interests in mind, and so don't serve the students well. They've exploded in size / impact / popularity in the last few decades, particularly as the financial markets and securitization really flourished. (Though, their business model is not really like securitization, other than the two share in common the reckless disregard for the system they are meant to be improving).
  2. The students themselves aren't stupid. It's not like they're all dumb and can't see what's going on. But the fact is that they're often in tough circumstances, facing competitive job markets, and having some kind of credentials - regardless of the quality for the education supporting them - is a valuable differentiator. It is, unfortunately, a signal - not necessarily that one candidate is more qualified than the other, but that one candidate cares more than the other, is willing to buckle down more that the other, is more financially stable than the other, etc. I.e., if you can spend $50 on a piece of paper, you probably have your shit together more than someone who can't.
  3. In addition to this, these companies use awful predatory practices to drive these points home, and bilk as much as they can from folks right on the margin. Cottom's direct experience here was interesting, though again not surprising. Really disgusting what these companies will do. (E.g., they give kickbacks to local companies that hire their graduates in order to boost their "hire rate" numbers - and then after a short period the company will fire the student (to hire new ones).

All of this was disgusting, and I was disgusted reading it, but it really just was right down the middle of what I expected this industry to be. I also found Cotton's writing style a bit patronizing. I don't have any specific examples, but several times felt like she was just one step shy of sounding the words out for me, which just made the experience seem more unpleasant. 

Overall, a good book with good information in it, but not something I could really someone else spend their time reading.



Author Bio:

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and faculty associate with Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. She has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dissent and is a former columnist at Slate and contributing writer at The Atlantic. Her research has been supported by the Microsoft Research Network's Social Media Collective, The Kresge Foundation, the American Educational Research Association and the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. Millions List named her book "Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy" one of the most anticipated non-fiction books of 2016. McMillan Cottom is a fan of many things but an uber fan of Dolly Parton, J. California Cooper and coffee.