University of Phoenix: Always Be Closing

"Always Be Closing" is the slogan of "Premiere Properties," the fictional Chicago real estate office in David Mamet's play, Glengarry Glen Ross. "Always Be Closing" is not only the theme of Mamet's examination of the tyranny of the "bottom line" over human relationships, but also appears to be the driving principle behind the "University" of Phoenix's administrators who crafted guidelines for their enrollment officers. So cynical are Phoenix's instructions to its underlings they might even defy Mamet's imagination. The goal is simple: rope in as many unsuspecting students as possible into as much bankruptcy-proof financial debt as possible:

Creating Urgency:

Getting Them to Apply NOW

Remember. . . .

*Students don't buy benefits

*They buy to ease or avoid pain

*Finding and burrowing into that pain moves the sale to a

*Also, the close of the sale is really just a beginning

Any institution that calls itself a "university" yet tells its enrollment officers to "burrow" down deep into the "pain" of its students with the aim of hooking them into government-subsidized debt to rake in the profits not only doesn't deserve to be accredited, but should be barred from having any access to federal student aid programs.

It turns out that if a for-profit "college" can "close" the sale (enrollment) of a student who only stays in school for a couple of weeks it gets to pocket a big share of that student's federal aid. Pretty Sweet, Uh?

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is right now trying to change this unsatisfactory situation. In the last 10 years enrollment in these for-profit diploma mills, which have their hands deep inside the till of federal student aid programs, grew from 600,000 to two million students. The federal financial aid to students at the for-profit "universities" has gone from $4.6 billion in 2000 to more than $23 billion in 2010. And the "University" of Phoenix and other "for-profits" won't even release their dropout rate numbers!

When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) under George Kutz recently sent out "secret shoppers" to enroll in the "University" of Phoenix, and other for-profit "colleges," it found that 100 percent of the time -- in fifteen out of fifteen cases, (and all caught on video tape!) -- the enrollment officials followed the "Always Be Closing" guidelines. Fifteen out of fifteen times they refused to answer students' basic questions, denied them the opportunity to speak with a financial aid counselor, and even refused to provide them with information about the size of the loan they were about to sign and the timetable for repayment.

The incentives are all wrong. Instead of being there to help students receive an education at an affordable cost to better prepare them to join the workforce, these "for-profits" are employing the most egregious money-grubbing tactics to bilk their students and the federal government. How's that for an Alma Mater? Senator Harkin and the GAO's work has exposed once and for all how utterly corrupt these for-profit "universities" and "colleges" really are.

At a time when the faculties of public colleges and universities are being told by their administrators how they should imitate the for-profits like the "University" of Phoenix (as USC Education Professor William Tierney argued in an op-ed to the Sacramento Bee) -- because they represent some sort of idealized "private sector" efficiency model -- Senator Harkin's and the GAO's revelations are all the more stunning. In California, the community college brass recently tried to ram through a transfer of credit deal with Kaplan as a way to stretch its budget. Luckily, the faculty senate refused to go along. Harkin and the GAO have just driven a stake in the heart of the monster that insists on privatizing public colleges and universities.

The "University" of Phoenix, which is owned by something called "the Apollo Group," (probably named after the moon landing because its profits are astronomical), has resisted providing documents to Harkin's committee, the most important body in the federal government dealing with education. And where is Arne Duncan our vaunted Secretary of Education? Too busy privatizing public K through 12 schools to be bothered with reining in the for-profits that are ripping off America's college students.

The only "student learning outcomes" these for-profit corporations posing as colleges recognize are those that fill their own pockets with tax dollars that are supposed to be going to deserving students who just want an education.