Friday, March 14, 2014

For Profit Education: My Story (Part 1)

Hello Reader Friends, let me introduce you to Julie of the Past, happy, innocent, and about to start her very first "real" job after college (and ridiculously thin).  When I graduated, I spent my first year as a fresh off the farm, English degree-wielding know-it-all being humbled through a variety of less than traditional jobs.  Because I got a flipping English degree.  (Helpful hint: get a degree in something you can actually use).

I was a nanny, a freelance technical writer for various companies, and a receptionist for a dentist (shout out to Dr. Rollins, still the best dentist I've ever known).  I moved from Little Rock to Chattanooga and lived with my parents.  Then I moved back to Little Rock and lived with friends (Hi, Ken and Jan!).  Then I moved back to Chattanooga again.  Like I said, humility was learned.

On my second attempt at living in Chattanooga, I finally found a job in a field I could see myself working in long-term.  (Nope, not for-profit organization yet.)  This job was writing ad copy for a marketing firm.  I was somewhat suspicious after my interviews, where I never a clear answer about what I'd be marketing, but I was young and naive and I was excited to have a real career-type job.  My first day I found out that I'd be writing ad copy for payday loan websites.

I knew payday loans were not something I was cool with, but only in a general sense.  I spent the next two weeks researching how exactly they operate and what effect they have on the people who use them in my free time.  I was learning a lot about SEO and marketing and loved that aspect, but the more I learned about payday loans, the more I hated what I'd be doing.  When the company revealed their new plan to target immigrants who wouldn't know better than to use the loan services, I quit.  I lasted a grand total of three weeks, but I felt confident that I was doing the right thing.

(Subtopic: if any of you have any questions about payday loans, ask me because in just three weeks I learned a ton about how underhanded their marketing is.) (Sub-subtopic: That company was recently shut down by the state).

I felt like that decision was confirmed when I got a call the very next week with a job offer from a local for-profit college.  I won't be naming names here, but this was the Chattanooga branch of a nation-wide school that has locations all across the country.  It was just opening up and I'd be a part of getting it off the ground.  I would be the library assistant (I had yet to get my MLS, but I was promised a promotion to librarian if I would get it).  I'd get to form the library from scratch.

My boss seemed passionate about education and the school seemed really focused on providing a place for non-traditional students to better themselves.  Everyone else at this campus was as new and fresh as I was and seemed eager to provide quality education to those who might not succeed in a traditional college.  Yes, I had heard people say that for profit schools are degree mills and that they don't do students favors, but I wasn't hearing that from anyone who had worked in one or had experience attending one.  Everyone I saw at the school really and truly cared about students.  I still believe that.  It didn't occur to me that they were just as young, new, and idealistic as I was.

The first year and a half I was there I loved my job.  I was building a library and playing with books all day.  My boss gave me loads of freedom to do whatever I wanted.  I also worked on faculty development and training and student activities.  We were small enough that I knew all of our students well and got to spend lots of time helping them with classes and even getting involved with them personally.  I felt like I was contributing to their success and I loved planning parties and student appreciation activities.

When it came time for our accrediting body to visit, I was heavily involved in the accreditation process.  This was my first chance to see some of the issues that would become even more apparent over the course of the five and a half years I spent at the school (more on that later).  I still believed in what we were doing - that I was helping people who didn't have another option and that their lives would be different upon graduating.  About two and a half years after we opened, I started planning our first graduation.  Around the same time, my boss left for another school.  This is the first time I started to feel realize that things weren't all they had originally seemed...

Keep Reading:
My Story Part 2
How For Profit Schools Hurt Students, Part 1
How For Profit Schools Hurt Students, Part 2
How For Profit Schools Hurt Their Own Employees, Part 1
How For Profit Schools Hurt Their Own Employees, Part 2
How For Profit Schools Hurt Communities
Wrap Up

(PS: If you find this at all interesting (or if you're not interested at all), would you mind letting me know?  I'm planning a five part series on my experiences and if you're all bored out of your minds, I can go back to just posting reviews)


  1. Replies
    1. Yay! If I miss anything important you'll have to let me know.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! The world needs to know, Julie!

  3. Yes, I want to read further!

  4. I definitely want to hear the rest! I actually wish I didn't have to wait… Please finish the series!

  5. The next installment.. soon? !

  6. I am hanging on the edge of my seat

  7. I love this. Keep going!

    Also I didn't know you had the payday loan experience - I do too! How horrible are they? I was (still am) horrified that people who do not speak/read/understand English could go in and have their kids (young kids!) interpret for them and then sign a legal document dealing with money. How is that ok?! We should talk, lol.

  8. I'm only checking into the blogs periodically lately but just read this and am super interested!