Friday, October 08, 2010

For-Profit Schools and the G.I. Bill

Bloomberg recently reported on how a lot of tuition money is being spent, and often wasted, by the government on G.I. bill tuition at for-profit colleges. The lack of support for returning students, let alone students who may have PTSD or brain injuries, is going to play a factor in their success at for-profits. But I think the report misses something important. A big part of the problem, as illustrated by the case they highlight, is mismatch between the returning student and the subject matter.
Pantzke has been awarded more than $50,000 in financial aid since July 2009, about half of it from the new GI Bill, according to his records. His dissatisfaction boiled over in July in a required course, “Fundamentals of the Internet,” when students were asked how they would use absolute and relative pathnames for hyperlinking.

He posted on the bulletin board that he was “done” with the class.
I can very much understand how a returning student who had no significant experience with computers, even without a combat-related disability, could become frustrated with or confounded by jargon, and the ability to process a lot of information that is new to them but is second-nature to the instructor and a lot of his classmates. But why was the student studying computer science? Was it the notion that "there are jobs in computers"? Because the difference between absolute and relative pathnames is not complex as compared to most of what you'll need to learn to perform entry level systems administration, web design or other computer work. And a computer-savvy person who didn't understand the term would likely "Google it" - there are a lot of explanations of the concept available online.

I suspect that had more care been given to up-front career counseling, as well as consideration of aptitude and interest, the gentleman described in the column could have found an educational program that was better suited to him, and in which he would be much more likely to succeed. It's more than fair to ask whether a traditional college might have offered the support necessary to help him succeed with computer classes, while the online for-profit program he took did little more than separate him from tens of thousands of dollars in tuition grants, but mismatching students to educational programs remains a problem - and one that continues if a mismatched student graduates from the program but can't find a job.

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