We continue our reading of Tressie McMillan Cottom‘s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (publisher; Amazon). Here we’ll discuss Chapter 5, “Where Credit Is Due.”
I’ll begin with a short summary, followed by questions. As a quick reminder, you can find all posts in this reading right here.
Chapter 5, “Where Credit Is Due”
This section concerns transfer credit, “not a sexy-sounding topic” but crucial to understanding for-profits’ relationship with the rest of higher education.
The gist: people taking classes with for-profits have a harder time transferring credits to other institutions than students in any other post-secondary sector.
Cottom sets this up by pointing out that American higher education is unusually “porous”. That is, people can leave our education system, then return to it later in life. Moreover, we can – in theory, and rarely in practice – move between strata within the overall ecosystem (144-5). For-profits are supposed to partake of that porosity, however “that ideology does not match the empirical reality” (145).
It turns out that students taking classes at for-profits are best equipped to ship credits to community colleges, and not too well at that (147). One reason for this is the status of actual credit-accepting protocols: “Most of the action in cross-sector articulation agreements has happened between for-profits and community colleges.” (149)
Cottom reminds us that their greater a campus’ reputation, the less likely it is to accept transfer credits, especially if they are private institutions (150).
Two personal stories anchor this short chapter. We begin with Kevin Golembiewski, who started his higher ed experience at a community college and ended up with a Harvard Law degree (141ff). The other tale is of “Raley’s mother”, an adult learner toiling through a for-profit university and running out of aid money (154-6). We also return to London, a student we met in chapter three. Golembiewski’s story shows how students *can* cut across the diversity of American higher education institutions, aided by a mentor, skin color, and gender. Raley’s mother’s story reveals how learners can get trapped with debt and no degree, unable to transfer to a better institution.
- If you work at a college or university, what’s the credit transfer situation?
- How important is it that for-profits have a weak record in transferring their credit to other institutions?
- If a college or university has a close relationship with local high schools, could that boost their chances of expanding credit agreements with other post-secondary schools?
Next Monday, June 19, we move on to chapter 6, “Credentials, Jobs, and the New Economy.” With that and the epilogue we approach the book’s end.