Office Hours with the Prof 9-5 For-profits…should you attend? Should you teach?

Over the last few years, more and more attention has been drawn to for-profit higher education in the United States.  In some cases, this attention seems to be warranted as some institutions that are marketing and offering “life-changing” opportunities for potential students to land their “dream jobs” upon graduation, have very little track record of success, if they are even providing a viable product.

However, when we consider the free market and capitalistic principles that the United States was founded upon, an argument can be made that for-profit models may actually be more in line with providing quality training and education.

If an institution is able to provide objectively “higher quality”, it should be able to charge its students accordingly…

Right?

I don’t want to spend the entire posting explaining the background of for-profit education, but let’s just say that institution CEOs have in many cases treated their organizations more like a tradable equity on a stock exchange (places where some institutions and education groups interestingly enough, are actually traded at!) than as a higher education entity.

Stock

Being accountable to shareholders as opposed to enrolled students and alumni is…. well…not the usual approach to running a college or university.

Add in allegations of predatory recruiting practices and it is pretty easy to see why for-profits have gotten a pretty been reputation in 2017.

So why is any of this relevant to you?

Two main reasons:

First, it is possible that you have thought about attending one of these institutions to acquire some type of degree or credentialing.

Second, when researching online teaching jobs, you may have seen a position advertised at one of these schools and are/were considering putting in your application.

Both concerns are valid and either concern would likely draw a number of different reactions and pieces of advice.  I’ll throw my hat in the ring and provide some insight of my own.

In regards to possible feelings of apprehension about attending a for-profit entity, these feelings are honestly valid to an extent, particularly if your goal is to secure online teaching jobs in the future.

Although I have certainly met and seen a number of online professors (both full-time and online adjuncts) who have received their graduate degree from for-profit entities, in just about every case (~98.5%) I encountered them at…for-profit institutions.

I don’t want to speculate on the possible “hierarchy” of for-profits, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that graduate degree-holding online professors for and from these institutions are playing “musical chairs”.  Some seem to dominate, but I have rarely seen those from the most “dominant” for-profits at not-for-profit institutions.

So, if you are okay with limiting your online teaching options to for-profits, attending one of these schools isn’t an awful idea.

However, consider that without a lofty resume or CV that in many cases, you would be passed over for positions from those who received their degrees from not-for-profits, particularly those who graduated from regionally accredited institutions.

Ultimately, this is too tough of a sell.

It is also a sell that is generally pretty expensive since for-profits are often times more expensive than not-for-profits and usually do not offer the same types of financial aid opportunities.

So…come to your own conclusions, but this isn’t a path that I would have personally gone down.

(To be honest, I didn’t even consider this path).

Moving on to the second question, things get a little bit trickier.

One of the great paradoxes of landing online teaching jobs is relatable to the age-old question regarding the chicken and the egg.

In the case of online teaching, the associations are a little bit different.

You must have experience in order to attain this teaching position…you must have a teaching position in order to acquire experience.

chick and egg

If you’ve ever been on the hunt for your first online teaching job, you’ve probably contemplated this cruel paradox on more than one occasion.

So what’s the solution?

Truth be told, my first online teaching gig was not with a for-profit entity and I am confident that this is not at all an uncommon reality.

By simply considering how long some people have been teaching with how long for-profit education (particularly graduate education) has been a thing, it’s safe to assume that most professors got their starts at not-for-profits.

That being said, I would have little to no apprehension at all about securing my first online teaching gig at a for-profit institution.

Heck, if the for-profit is paying enough, I’ll teach there today!

So why does such a seemingly simple conclusion even need to be stated in this manner?

As you can probably guess from reading this post, for-profits often times have a collective stigma associated with them.

So what does this mean when applying for jobs at for-profits or working for them?

Well, it’s a bit like when actors or actresses are warned not to take on “bad” movie roles.

The fear is that they’ll get type casted, stigmatized, or even blacklisted.

For some reason, in the elitist realm of higher education, some of these same sentiments apply.

“Ohh…Online Professor, I could never teach there.”

“Online Prof, that’s a for-profit!  I can’t teach there!”

“Yo…Online Teacher Dude, how will I ever get another teaching gig with a for-profit on my CV?!”

My take on this sentiment?

It is industry-wide hysteria.

Additionally, none of these statements are remotely true.

If you want to teach somewhere, whether mainly to gain experience, pay, etc., you can certainly teach wherever you want and for whatever reason.

If you have a hang-up about teaching for a for-profit, stop limiting yourself and start being open to new opportunities to supplement your income or to gain experience.

For-profits looking “bad” on a CV?  Well, they have never hurt me (to my knowledge).

Ultimately, institutions want their online adjuncts to know something about their subject matter areas, want them to know how to manage an online classroom, and want them to be reliable.

Would they prefer someone with a Harvard degree or someone with a post-doc teaching position at Oxford on their CV?

Probably

But, c’mon.  What are the chances that either of these two unicorns is applying for 99 percent of the gigs that you’re looking at?

(No offense to anyone here.  My anecdotal evidence has resulted in my knowing exactly zero professors with Ivy League credentials in online teaching!)

Anyways, your education and experience within your field (whether work or research-related) satisfies the first desire.

Regarding reliability and classroom management, well, actual experience with online teaching greatly helps to satisfy these areas.

Are for-profits on-par with the University of North Carolina?

No…not at all

However, so many of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that go into being a successful online professor overlap.

Yes, many of the same expectations that UNC has for its professors will be found at a for-profit institution.

Hiring parties know this and know that scooping up applicants that are “proven commodities” are oftentimes the best bet.

Long story short, go ahead and apply for that for-profit online teaching gig and show them (and your future employers) what you can do!

So…what’s the final verdict on for-profits as they relate to online teaching?

If you’re comfortable with teaching at for-profits for the duration of your online teaching career and a graduate degree from one of these institutions appears to be the option for you, go forth and pursue one!

If the limitations that come with such credentialing worry you, you probably will want to pass on this option.

However, whether you are for-profit or not-for-profit credentialed…

Whether you are a veteran online professor or are seeking out your first online teaching gig…

Don’t sleep on for-profit teaching jobs.

Get that foot in the door

Get that experience

Get paid

If the Department of Education ends up shutting them down one day, at least you got some value out of them!

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