Monday, January 2, 2012

Selling Out Education and Neumont University

I am a high school senior, which means that over the past year, I’ve received hundreds of pounds of mail from colleges requesting the honor of my application. For the most part, this business has kept the recycling collector notably busy and my heart heavy in the thought of the myriad trees that wasted their lives. I got a letter today from a place called “Neumont University” (where’s Neumont?), a for-profit technological school, and was immediately disturbed by what I saw. I’ll quote the letter in verbatim and I kid not when I say disturbed. Don your gloves, since its time to do some professional adbusting. 

Adbusting The Letter

Dear Kevin,

When you think about what most colleges are like, you probably imagine:

  • Boring lectures in giant lecture halls on giant campuses.
  • Old, irrelevant knowledge (courses like 18th-century French poetry).
  • Theory, theory, theory – with an internship tucked in at the end.
  • Four years… maybe five.
  • A “well founded, liberal arts education” (aka, you’re still waiting tables a year after graduation).

How lovely, bashing 2169 reputable institutions generating creative and innovative research scattered throughout the United States. Dismissingcampus-31 cultural history as irrelevant and the fundamental aspects of knowledge as useless. It purposefully eschews “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” and the wording implies that the only tangible goal of education is money. The school doesn’t stop there, this is where it gets really egregious.

Neumont University isn’t like most colleges. It’s designed for students like you who have a passion for technology, want a challenge, and hate wasting time. Here’s how a Neumont education is different.


  • Hands on learning, not dumbed-down learning: You’ll work on real projects (with real deadlines) for companies like Nike, IBM and eBay.
  • Always relevant: study the latest languages, apps, and platforms taught by faculty who’ve actually done what they’re teaching.
  • Just 2.5 years: Think of it as a 4-year degree in a 2.5 year .ZIP file.
  • Remarkable results: over 95% of our graduates are employed within six months of graduation. And they accept positions with starting salaries averaging $63000 a year.

“Hands on learning, not dumbed-down learning” espouses the advertisement. The school evidently outsources its students to megacorporations, disguising commercial work as education and placing the students into work with its “industry partners”. While I do admire the idea of co-op work (Drexel ftw), Neumont pushes the idea to its logical extreme and attempts to sell itself on it. No mention is made at all about students being instilled with the creativity and drive to form their own companies and realize their original ideas. The school’s website is written in a hip and cool manner devoid of much meaningful content.

Take the traditional, dated, stodgy concept of college and Ctrl+Shift+Esc. Neumont University was built from the ground-up, with the help of industry leaders, to create the ideal learning environment for tech-obsessed students.

I mean, wow, seriously? I’d much rather CTRL+ALT+DEL after seeing the kind of market Neumont is attempting to sell itself to: rebellious, pissed-off types hellbent on resisting any type of authority, in short, dweebier Holden Caulfields. The fact that the school simplifies the theoretical, historical, intellectual, philosophical and artistic aspects of computer science and game design to “the latest languages, apps, and platforms” relegates the school to a niche market of money-obsessed teens. I have no doubt that the teachers at Neumont are indeed fine and honorable and aren’t in it for the money, but the wording of the letter makes it seem directly converse. Capture

Further embodying the Holden Caulfield comparison, the college writes on its website: “Toga parties are for the saps who will be stuck in their senior year while you're already working toward that first promotion, raking in the cash.”. What Neumont has done here is dismiss the social and moral importance of education. The most moving thing about the experience of learning is what people discover within themselves throughout those four years. This extends even to high-school, the timid and friendless freshman that I once was evolved into a stronger, more loving and more hopeful iteration. This change will definitely continue through the relationships I build and the experiences I share with my treasured peers. To condense the full college experience into a “2.5 year .ZIP file” would simplify the beauty of growing up into an antisocial cash-grab.

Furthermore, the school was founded in 2003 and has graduated a little over 380 students (according to Wikipedia), which kinda puts its claim of over “95 percent of graduates are employed within six months of graduation” on shaky ground. The price of tuition is a pretty impressive $21,800, but student loans are a continuous problem for for-profit schools and protecting oneself from crippling student-debt will undoubtedly be a problem for those who choose to take out loans.

Finally, a picture from their Student Life page, which reads: studentlife

We solemnly vow the zombie apocalypse will not begin on our campus.

I mean, seriously?!

Schools are supposed to be intellectual havens and should be free of such ridiculous marketing. The course description page for their game design degree features a picture of a guy playing Minecraft, which reads: "A passion for gaming isn’t enough to succeed in this exciting field. Even getting a long-range headshot off while falling through the air won’t cut it (although we admire your talent).” For aspiring game developers seeking to bring hope to the dying medium, isn’t it clear that we’re looking for something more? What Neumont needs to do is dump the flashy marketing and attempt to convince us with the intellectual energy of its students and faculty. Think beyond the money for a moment: isn’t it clear that there are more important things to the fields of computer science and game design? Fixate your applicant’s interests on money rather than brains and you’re practically welcoming the zombie apocalypse to begin on your campus.

The Bigger Picture

Let’s look beyond Neumont University’s attempt at marketing and consider for-profit schools as a whole. I’m all for the conservative spending that these schools adhere to, with fewer attendees, funds are more limited and more money goes towards good teaching rather than frivolities like restaurants and shops on campus. That said, compromising the integrity of education to reach for those precious funds goes against the purpose of the school. While its a safe bet to say that Neumont is one of the better for-profit schools out there, academia and intellectualism are lost from the school’s vital community as students begin to take interest in maximizing their personal profits in the future.

That said, the Huffington Post did an interesting series of posts on practices at these schools. A finding by the Obama Administration stated that 45% of defaulted student-loans came from students who attended such institutions. Promises of full-tuition loans ultimately put their recipients in crippling debt. The fact that these institutions typically cost much more than public community colleges and universities would make them unappealing to the vast majority of students.

Ultimately, I shy away from for-profit schools with many qualms. While it is good that these schools are providing opportunities for fields such as mechanics and culinary arts that might not be available at other schools, seeking out profit from educating students is cause to question the intellectual vigor and integrity of such institutions.

1 comment:

Stacy Hughes, Director of External Affairs said...

Wow! Martin, you have a talent for deciphering adspeak, but missed what Neumont University is all about. I appreciated the way you value education, scholarship, and industry and wish more prospective students thought like you.

I would love to invite you to the campus, or for a telephone conversation with any member of our Executive Administration, to learn more about our serious academics, our mission, our dedication to educational excellence, and our belief that college is a critical time for developing one's mind in preparation for their career.

We believe a University should be measured on outcomes, and knowledge as an outcome is difficult to quantify - results are not.

Catchy copy designed to help inspire the imagination of future technology leaders (many of whom go on to start their own businesses - and for which we have an academic track) is just that, it is not the complete picture of Neumont. To really understand Neumont University, you need to get talking - with faculty, current students, and our Provost. You'll see that there's more to Neumont than what you assume from a brief letter and a few pages of our website designed to inspire a broad potential student base.

Thank you for your insightful look at who we are. We are proud of what we've accomplished and want to bring our innovative method to as many future digital scientists as possible, so that they can decide for themselves if a Neumont education is the right fit. We're not for everybody - but we're the perfect fit for some.