Get Me Out of Here: Dispatches From the For-Profit College

I’m not an activist, a writer, a journalist or any of these things so please bear with me. I have been attending Keiser University since July of last year and only recently have I seen it for what it really is. When you first come to this school they’ll have you believe that this is a quality institution, only concerned with providing a top notch education to every student. Once you’re here for a while though that illusion starts to fade. This school’s primary concern above all else is making a profit. Then maybe they’ll address some educational issues. The bottom line is Keiser University is a business first and foremost.

There has been a huge discussion going on in congress lately about how much for-profit colleges are actually hurting more students than they are helping. In Florida almost 60% of all students who enroll in for-profit colleges, withdraw from school before graduating. They each leave school with an average of about $11,000 in debt.  It is true that a lot of students drop out of community colleges and universities too, however, a major difference is that most for-profit school students need to take out loans. At traditional 4-year public schools 44.3 percent of the students enrolled had to take out loans, at community colleges only 16.6 needed loans, while at for-profit schools 94.4 percent of students needed to take out loans. This data shows that the student who withdraws from a for-profit school will be most likely leaving with a huge debt that they can’t even get rid of by declaring bankruptcy. Of all the students enrolled in higher education only 9% attend for-profit colleges yet for-profit college students account for 46% of all loan defaults. It makes you wonder how this could be when for-profit colleges have a higher average graduation rate.

There are also many who believe that for-profit colleges are unfairly being singled out. Among those is the chancellor, Arthur Keiser. He has been very active throughout this whole process. He went to Washington and actually protested with students from around the country yet I don’t remember any of the students from our school being invited. He ranks 12th amongst contributors to a “trade organization” formerly called Career College Association. This “trade organization” recently changed its name to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. That must mean that instead of saying Keiser University we’ll soon be calling it Keiser Private Sector University. This “trade organization” is really in charge of public relations and making the right “donations” to the right politicians. Ultimately this means they are propagandists and lobbyist in charge of taking care of this industry’s image. Unfortunately students don’t have these protections even though they also pay taxes and vote. Any attacks on these schools will be seen as trying to impose stricter regulations on the “private sector” just like they’re trying to do to Wall Street. Politics plays a huge roll in this whole controversy as you can see.

At the Pembroke Pines campus, currently only 18% of students are paying back their loans once they leave school according to the Department of Education. You would think this would be a much more important issue for Mr. Keiser but he has stated that this is not his problem. You don’t blame the bank when people don’t pay back their mortgages he said. It’s funny he would say that because it seems like the mortgage crisis was taking advantage of people the same way that these schools are now. Everybody wants to progress in life and we all want to succeed. Sure there were tons of greedy people who made huge financial mistakes but there were also tons who were just chasing a dream which they were told was within reach. When we came to this school we were promised a chance to make our dreams a reality but really they were more concerned with earning a profit at all costs. When it comes to the high tuition price Mr. Keiser says he has no choice because he has to pay so many fees. Even with those high prices, there is only a 15% profit margin. Based on only last year’s revenue of $310 million wouldn’t that mean that profits were around 46 million for last year alone? How does he even pay for his private jet? By the way out of those $310 million, over 80% was from federal student loans and grants. Tax dollars aren’t being used very wisely when you consider that most students aren’t able to pay these loans back upon graduation. But again Mr. Keiser has the solution for this which is the government simply has to garnish student’s wages and income taxes which they are already doing. Another example of how concerned Keiser University is for its students.

To conclude this letter I want to say that although I don’t like what Arthur Keiser is doing I’m not mad at him. We live in a capitalist country and these are just some of the side effects that happen in a society like ours. Mr. Keiser is just in a position where he could capitalize on the fact that so many of us need to go back to school. He has achieved something very admirable in what he’s done by building this school from the ground up. He made the school what it is today with hard work but there is still a lot of work left to do. On the other hand there have been tough economic times for a lot of us and we knew we would need college degrees to survive in this tough market. Students weren’t looking for handouts, just an education. The only problem is that when this bubble bursts, just like with the housing bubble, the .com bubble, and all the other bubbles that have been experiencing lately, the ones on the bottom of the food chain are the ones left scavenging. It must feel very uncomfortable to be reading something like this but if you look at this situation you’ll see that if student’s futures were truly important things would be done differently. Why don’t they inform students that upon graduating most will struggle to pay these loans back and many won’t be able to at all? Why have both Belinda and Arthur Keiser appeared in newspapers talking about these issues yet they’ve never spoken to us about this directly? Why hasn’t the dean or anybody told students about this, when financial aid comes to the classroom at the first sign of even the slightest financial trouble? Are they waiting to tell us all of this on the day of our exit interview? Are any of the teachers aware that this is going on? Why aren’t the admission reps more honest? An unfortunate fact is that all of these questions can be answered with; they’re just doing their jobs.

I’m not writing this with the intent of bashing Keiser University but I am hoping to inspire at least one more person to ask questions before they’re in too deep. We shouldn’t be seen simply as dollar signs. A lot of us came to this school because we needed to change our lives for the better, not to be taken advantage of. We came motivated because we saw an opportunity to make the improvements quickly and efficiently at what we thought was a quality institution. We literally put our futures in their hands only to see that at the end of the day they were more concerned with making money. Although there has been a rush to be involved at the congressional level I haven’t seen any changes in the classroom. If there was real concern for the students wouldn’t it be best to dedicate more resources to figuring out how to make this experience better for students instead of trying to cover up the problem to ensure profits? There is a huge opportunity here to really get involved with students who wouldn’t get an opportunity like this anywhere else. Instead of worrying about what congress is doing why not worry about improving student performance. If they concentrated on student performance wouldn’t it be irrelevant what happens in congress? If this school knows that they get a certain kind of student then it would be a good idea to develop new teaching methods other than relying on the fact that they’ll have a smaller class size. I currently have a 4.0 grade point average and graduate in December of this year which means I’m only a little over 2 months away. I’ve been on and off with school since 2002 and would’ve loved to finally have a degree. Unfortunately now that I have seen what Keiser University is really about, I will be withdrawing after my current class. I personally would not be proud to say that I am a graduate of Keiser University knowing what I know now. I’m not recommending for you to do the same but I do recommend that you start asking more questions. I’ll spend a good portion of the rest of my life paying back every penny I owe to this school but they can keep their diploma.

–David Ruiz

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