Monday, March 24, 2014

How For Profit Schools Hurt Their Own Employees

My Story, Part 1
My Story, Part 2
How For Profit Schools Hurt Students, Part 1
How For Profit Schools Hurt Students, Part 2

Before I start in on the issues employees in for profit schools are faced with, I want to make sure that I'm totally clear on one thing: I don't think that working at a for profit schools makes you a bad person.  Obviously.  I worked at one for five years, and while I struggled with the ethical aspects of working there, I think it was ultimately the burnout caused by that struggle that led me to quit.  I certainly didn't stomp out in indignation at the first indication of ethical issues.  The majority of employees at my school truly cared about students, even if their hands were tied by corporate policy in regards to their ability to educate those students effectively.  I hope to show in this series that the problems for employees are caused by this corporate mind-set and red tape, put in place on an institutional level in order to increase profits.

Reality is that the job market in Chattanooga (as in other places, I'm sure) is terrible.  I was incredibly blessed to be in a position where Luke could cover both our finances and health insurance without my income.  Lots of people aren't in that position and are supporting not only themselves but families.  So please, please, please do not take this series as a condemnation of campus-level employees.  For the most part, in my experience, they're doing the best they can for each student with what they've been given.  My indictments are of corporate policies, put in place by businessmen with no classroom experience, that damage everyone, including the people who work at the schools.

For Profit Schools Are a Blight on Your Resume
I took the job as Library Assistant at my school thinking it would be a foot in the door for higher education.  I didn't necessarily want to work in a for profit, but there were so many opportunities for learning the ropes of librarianship that I was eager to accept it, thinking that when I had the basics down and had the experience on my resume, I'd easily move into another position at a larger, more traditional school.  And I did learn quite a few things.  But those things meant absolutely nothing in comparison to the fact that I was working at a for profit school.  For profits are the red-headed step-child of higher education.  Remember how I said that a degree from a for profit school might not be considered legitimate in the real world?  The same is true for experience working at a for profit school.  It took me three years of looking and applying including two months of unemployment, to find another job in a library. 

Departments Are Pitted Against Each Other
One of the things that baffled me most (until I considered it from a corporate/financial standpoint) about my school's operation was the way that departments were pitted against each other.  We had two main departments at the school: Recruitment/Financial Aid and Academics.  Recruitment and Financial Aid were responsible for enrolling as many students as possible, regardless of their academic or social ability to complete their education.  Recruitment got a hard time for being cut-throat and ruthless with each other and with Academics, but the truth is that they were just doing their jobs.  If they didn't enroll a certain number of students each quarter, they would lose their jobs - and they had kids and families just like everyone else.  

Because they had to meet their numbers, they would enroll anyone they could.  Homelessness, criminal history, even sexual harassment of female employees during the tour weren't reason enough to exclude students from enrollment.  Least of all their considerations was whether or not the students had the capacity to complete his or her schooling.  We enrolled students who barely spoke English, students who couldn't sign their names, and students who couldn't tell you the name of the county they lived in.  

Academics, then, would be responsible for keeping those students in school.  They were help responsible for teaching functionally illiterate students, non-English speakers, and those who just weren't capable of keeping up, along with students who were aggressive, both physically, verbally, and sexually.  This caused constant tension between the two departments.  If Academics were unable to keep those students in school, they could lose their jobs.  It was a constant struggle to keep students enrolled because we constantly enrolled students who were just not capable of success.

Employees Aren't Safe
I'm going to be generous here and admit that this could have been a problem only at my campus.  Maybe no one else faces this at other campuses.  But at the campus where I worked, I was frequently afraid.  We enrolled students with drug and alcohol abuse issues and addictions, students with criminal histories, and students who were mentally unstable.  In my five years at the school, I was screamed at, cursed at, sexually harassed, and threatened on more than one occasion.  I repeatedly asked for more security at school and the problem was denied, despite the fact that I wasn't the only one complaining.  Here are just a few things that happened to me personally:
  • A student who was told that he had to fill out paperwork to receive his cap and gown grew irate and told me that he knew which car was mine and where I parked in the parking lot and that I "couldn't always park near the door."  
  • A student who was asked to complete an end of the quarter summary got inches from my face and screamed at me in front of a classroom full of students while the instructor watched.  I filed a report, but no action was taken.  The student had a known serious drug problem that was not addressed during his time at school. 
  • I was called in on multiple occasions when students were threatening suicide.  On one occasion the student was on the sidewalk in front of the school, crying, threatening suicide, and hitting his head on the brick exterior of the school.  I brought him inside as another coworker called 911.  The police came and the student was taken to the emergency room.  I was reprimanded for involving the school and told that since he was technically "off campus", I had no reason to get involved.
  • One more than one occasion I broke up fights in the parking lot or in the school itself.  Police had to be called on more than one occasion, but no student was ever expelled for fighting.
  • I had an angry male students use his arms to corner me into my desk on one occasion.  I filed a report and his program chair, a friend of mine, reprimanded him, but the administration took no action.
  • Continual sexual harassment, ranging from being asked blatant questions about my sex life to having to establish basic personal space issues.  I frequently had to ask men not to touch me, not to hug me, or not to stand so close.  Derogatory talk about women and their roles as sex objects was a daily issue.  Porn use in the library was also rampant and I was expected to handle it on my own without help from administration.  The attitude from administration was one of "boys will be boys", not one of supporting female staff.  I was told on at least one occasion that I was young and pretty and should get used to being harassed or should consider it a compliment.
  • I've put this under the heading of employee safety, but the truth is that female students faced the same issues.  I had numerous female students report to me that they felt harassed or unsafe or even stalked by male students.  Every incident was reported, and on two occasions class schedules were changed to separate students, but no one was ever disciplined or removed from the school.

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying this series, and can say you are spot on.