Wednesday, March 24, 2021

HEI Investigation: EducationDynamics

EducationDynamics (“EDDY”) is a multichannel higher education marketer and lead generation company that services a number of for-profit and formerly for-profit online colleges, including American Intercontinental University, Colorado Technical Institute, South University, Purdue University Global (formerly Kaplan University), and University of Arizona Global (formerly Ashford University). [i]



EDDY’s operations include call centers in Boca Raton, Florida and Lenexa, Kansas where some education advisors are paid commissions for enrolling students. It appears that the call centers have been engaged in bait-and-switch tactics as consumers who are seeking work are enrolled in these schools.

Originally known as Halyard Education, EducationDynamics has faced allegations of being a predatory company for at least a decade. [ii] [iii] For more than a decade, the company, through a number of lead generation websites and tv commercials, brought hundreds of thousands of leads to the most predatory schools, including Corinthian Colleges, ITT Technical Institute, and Virginia College, all which have closed. In 2019 and 2020, EDDY purchased the assets of other dubious marketers, Thruline[iv] and Quinstreet. [v] [vi]

At least one source has indicated that Halyard and EducationDynamics purchased leads from Alec Defrawi, who was prosecuted by the FTC in 2016 for a job-education bait-and-switch scheme.[vii] While the recipients of the leads were not mentioned in the complaint, a comment on the FTC website also alluded to a relationship between Defrawi and EducationDynamics.[viii]



More recently, there is evidence on GlassDoor[ix] and Indeed[x] suggesting that EDDY has engaged in bait and switch tactics at its Boca Raton call center. Former employees have complained that the call center receives leads from people who believed they were applying for work, and that call center workers were required to enroll them in schools.


While the allegations were not as clear at the Kansas location, one EducationDynamics sales associates stated that they were getting “shady” and “uninterested” leads and that management was aware of the problem. The employee also noted that EDDY workers went under different company names to avoid scrutiny. 

[i] EducationDynamics History, Acquisitions, And Higher Ed Services
[ii] Sen. Durbin: Don't fall for college-in-your-pajamas trick | TheHill
[iii] Veterans could be first to pay as DeVos rolls back for-profit college oversight (nbcnews.com)
[iv] EducationDynamics Acquires Key Assets from Thruline Marketing
[v] EducationDynamics Acquires Assets of QuinStreet's Higher Education Vertical (prnewswire.com)
[vi] In 2012, Quinstreet was prosecuted by 20 state Attorneys General for deceiving veterans through its GIBill.com website. Attorneys general announce settlement with for-profit college marketer (insidehighered.com)
[vii] Robert Nolan of Halyard Capital Had Knowledge of Alec Difrawi Scams – scamFRAUDalert™ Report
[viii] Don’t quit your day job: FTC sues education lead generator for bogus job application process | Federal Trade Commission
[ix] EducationDynamics Reviews | Glassdoor
[x] Working at Education Dynamics: Employee Reviews | Indeed.com


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Even Elite Schools Have Subprime Majors

Even elite US universities have academic majors that result in negative or low returns on investment (ROI).   Keil Dumsch and I looked at some of America's most elite schools and found the worst performing majors at each school.  You can find the information yourself by going to the US Department of Education's College Scorecard.  

While the College Scorecard has limitations, including incomplete and missing data, it can still be used as one tool for choosing a college and a major to study.  The College Scorecard has a section for every school called "Salary After Attending." 

If you click on "View More Details" you can see several sections, including a section titled "Salary after Completing."  If you take a look at the range and hover over the low you see the major that had the lowest performing major in terms of salaries.  

The salary ranges for some schools are enormous, and it's amazing what you will find for low salary majors at elite schools. Some may argue that the salaries are misleading if people go on to grad school or medical school, but many do not.  And of those who do continue their studies some still end up as post docs or in other less than optimum jobs while holding an even larger amount of debt.  CalTech is the only school that does not have a low-ROI major. 

Here's a sample. 

Brown, Human Biology, $27,669
Caltech, Mechanical Engineering, $83,177
Carnegie Mellon, Fine and Studio Arts, $20,140
Columbia University, Philosophy, $28,598
Cornell, Geologic and Earth Sciences/Geosciences $25,194
Dartmouth, Biology, $32,563
Duke, Area Studies, $20,262
Emory, Biology, $16,940
Georgetown, Biological and Physical Sciences, $27,476 
Harvard, Anthropology, $26,353
Johns Hopkins, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology, $14,627
MIT, Biology, $35,772
New York University, Dance, $16,478
Notre Dame, Classics and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics $20,140
Princeton, Research and Experimental Psychology, $33,993
Rice, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology, $24,421
Stanford University, English, $23,649
Tufts, Fine and Studio Arts, $23,538
University of California - Berkeley, Philosophy, $20,824
University of California - Los Angeles, Music, $18,498
University of Chicago, Biology, $23,649
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Microbiological Sciences and Immunology, $16,169
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Philosophy, $18,154
University of Pennsylvania, Film, Video, and Photographic Arts, $24,035
University of Southern California, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology, $10,925
University of Virginia, Drama/Theatre Arts and Stagecraft, $18,771
Vanderbilt, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology, $16,663
Wake Forest University, Health and Physical Education/Fitness, $26,353
Washington University in St Louis, Biology, $16,663
Yale, Ecology, $30,771

Friday, March 12, 2021

Coursera IPO Reveals Bleak Future For Global Labor

Coursera (COUR) is an online educational provider, most notably known for its Stanford grad founders, its free Massive Open Online Courses and its relationship with elite schools like University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and University of Illinois who have provided content.

After about a decade of existence, amid the Covid pandemic, the company has decided to go public, with the help of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and others acting as underwriters. Coursera has never made a profit even though it has enormous margins, taking the lion's share of the revenues from its joint operations with notable schools.  

Like the Laureate Education IPO in 2017,  Coursera's intentions are global in scope.  Laureate's IPO sold the idea that there was a growing global middle class that needed education and was willing to pay for it. But Laureate's slogan "Here For Good" became a bad joke as the global economy worsened and the company downsized.  

Coursera has already served tens of millions of people, most of whom gained access for free or next to nothing--other than having an internet connection.  

Like Laureate, Coursera has also received funding from the World Bank, but in 2021 the picture is framed differently. Coursera's idea is that the world's labor force is facing a more challenging and perhaps bleak future, a "double disruption" of a global pandemic and increased automation, and the notion that COUR can profit from this disruption.  

The company's Prospectus states: 

According to our estimates based on data from the International Labour Organization, the global workforce will grow by 230 million people by 2030. This is expected to happen at a time when up to half of today’s jobs, around 2 billion, are at high risk of disappearing due to automation and other factors driving obsolescence by 2030, according to The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

So how will Coursera make a profit?  According to Gary Roth, author of The Educated Underclass, "Many of these unprofitable, investment-capital initiatives only succeed if they can cannibalize other parts of the economy (e.g. Home Depot or Lowe's versus traditional hardware stores). The education sector is already unprofitable and requires massive amounts of public funding. We'll see if initiates like this can survive."

Roth added that Coursera is mostly "confined to pre-professional and professional areas like non-technical business disciplines that don’t require huge inputs of expertise or equipment. The humanities are out, as are the sciences. They also represent a low tier of degrees, without much respect from much of the ‘employing class’, most of whom graduated from decent-quality liberal arts or state-funded schools."


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Business of Higher Education



Higher education is a multi-trillion dollar industry in the US.  Journalists and policy people who cover the industry are often quick to put schools and their related businesses into distinct categories, but these categories are often oversimplified.  One of the biggest oversimplifications is in categorizing schools as "for-profit" and "non-profit."  

For-profit higher education has typically referred to institutions operating as profit-seeking businesses, but this ignores three centuries of history, economics, and public policy showing the intermingling of for-profit institutions and non-profit enterprises with a for-profit mentality.    

For-profit schools and the for-profit mindset are not new to US education.  While elite private religious based colleges were the first schools of higher education, proprietary training was also available during the late 1700s.  It could be argued that even then, elite colleges could not have grown without the benefits of enslaving their labor, the ultimate in greed and depravity.   

After the US Civil War, through federal legislation (the Morrill Act), state flagship universities were granted land.  Private and public black colleges were also formed.  For-profit business and trade schools also sprang up in many American cities, serving a growing demand for entrepreneurs and skilled labor.  Private non-profit colleges followed suit.  As early as 1892, University of Chicago started a correspondence school, a money-making strategy copied by Penn State, University of Wisconsin, and many other universities.  

Since the early 20th century, critics have complained about money rather than academics driving traditional university leadership. Thorstein Veblen's book  The Higher Learning in America (1918), was subtitled, "A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men."  Yale and Harvard also brought on football, which was a big money maker for the schools in the early 20th century.  

With the help of government funding, higher education grew by leaps and bounds after World War II (the GI Bill) and into the 1960s and 1970s (Pell Grants and federal loans).  State universities and community colleges grew in number.  In 1972, with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, proprietary schools gained access to these funds to become a larger player in US higher education.  

By the 1980s, the for-profit University of Phoenix (UoPX) became a pioneer as a mega-university, a  school of over 80,000 students with an emphasis on adult learners, convenience, and a business attitude.  For-profit schools gained legitimacy as universities like Devry and UoPX became regionally accredited and others created their own national accreditors.  In the 1980s and 90s for-profit colleges grew as they became publicly traded corporations with enormous profits and political power. 

With profit-driven schools, academic labor was faced with unbundling, where components of the traditional faculty role (e.g., curriculum design) were divided, while others (e.g., research) were eliminated.  Colleges resembled academic assembly lines rather than bastions of wisdom.  But the marginalization of academic labor was not reserved to for-profit schools.  

As this great unbundling was occurring, state flagship universities became enormous research institutions with multiple missions, many of them profit driven.  Proponents of privatization, outsourcing from for-profit companies, have said that it "helps universities save money and makes them more nimble and efficient." Moody's Dennis Gephardt, however warns that "more and more are cutting closer to the academic core." 

Since the 1980s commercialization in nonprofit and public higher education has accelerated, with universities increasingly involved in enterprises focused on generating net revenue, such as licensing of patents. Indicators of for-profit incursions into nonprofit and public higher education may include corporate sponsored science labs, for-profit mechanisms such as endowment money managers, for-profit fees for service, for-profit marketing, enrollment services and lead generation, privatized campus services, for-profit online program managers (OPMs), privatized housing, private student loans, student loan servicers, student loan asset backed securities, and Human Capital Contracts, also known as income share agreements.

For-profit college enrollment has been in decline since the 2010-2011 school year.  University of Phoenix and Devry are shadows of their former selves,  and two other big schools, Kaplan University and Ashford University have been transformed into arms of two state universities, Purdue University Global and University of Arizona Global Campus.   

But proprietary colleges have not been the only type of colleges in decline.  Community colleges and second tier public and private colleges also reported significant enrollment and revenue losses.  Community college enrollment, in fact, has declined in absolute numbers more than for profit colleges.  

During this decade long decline, what I have referred as the College Meltdown, for-profit mechanisms have gained even ground as government aid and institutional bonds have fill in revenue gaps.  Today, US higher education marketing and advertising is ubiquitous. The Harvard Business School operates in many ways like a for-profit enterprise.  And many elite schools rely on for-profit online program managers to grow and profit from.