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August 2009

Jobless Grad Won't Win Her Lawsuit, But She Has A Point

Monroe College faces a $70,000 lawsuit from alumna Trina ThompsonSo, the story goes like this: woman applies to a college, gets accepted, gets a degree, can't find a job, sues the college. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Well, let's start filling in some more facts. The cost of that degree to Trina Thompson was $70,000 and several years of her life. She got a Bachelor's in IT Business Administration, not exactly on par with the classic jobless degrees like Philosophy or Comparative Literature. The college, Monroe College, is a private for-profit school whose entire raison d'être is to get their graduates jobs - check out their entirely job-oriented mission statement (and their exclusively career-related degree programs).

Monroe's website is rife with passages like "At Monroe, we offer degrees in a variety of majors leading to tomorrow's best careers."[1] and "Monroe is the choice for motivated students who wish to pursue their specific career studies in a highly professional educational environment."[2] and "The Office [of Registrar] will constantly seek to provide quality customer service to students, alumni, faculty, staff and other constituents of the College."[3]

Monroe doesn't even pretend that they produce "critical thinkers" or "well-informed citizens" or even "lifelong learners," which are conveniently vague and largely unmeasurable outcomes. Their sole focus just so happens to be very quantifiable: put $70,000 in, and a good job comes out. When colleges and universities treat education as a product, and students as customers, should we be at all surprised when someone dares to return defective "goods"? 

While I'm not a lawyer, I'm pretty certain Thompson's claim hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of winning. But this lawsuit is not just a statement on the deteriorating condition of higher ed generally: it speaks to the lies of the education commodifiers, who are all too-willing to treat their schools like supermarkets when it is convenient for them (determining workloads and salaries of faculty & administrators, expenses for students, department funding, athletics policies, etc.), but are never willing to take their ridiculous metaphors to their natural conclusions.