By Any Other Name: For-Profit Colleges Watch Their Language

March 11, 2012

Would that which we call a "parent company" seem worthier if it were a "university system?" Would it impress Congress if student "re­cruiters" were called by any other name? "Coun­selors," perhaps?

It seems so—at least to those in the for-profit-college industry's main trade association. For at least a year, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities quietly pursued a campaign, called "Project Rose," whose goal was to change the vernacular of the sector to de-emphasize its retail-grade jargon.

A document describing the project was provided anonymously to The Chronicle. The intent, it says, was to ensure that when representatives of for-profit institutions speak, the words they use to describe their institutions, education, and students "command respect and reflect professionalism." The document goes on to list a series of "problematic" advertising tactics and statements made during calls with investors that fostered negative images of the industry, such as "Rise in Student Aid Entitlements = Automatic Revenue Bump."

Another section, titled "How We Talk," proposes alternatives for 45 words and phrases commonly used by people in the sector. It suggests saying "enrollment-assistance center" instead of "call center," "faculty and staff" instead of "employees," and "accept applications" instead of "write some business."

The campaign began back when the association itself was known by another name—it was the Career College Association until the summer of 2010—and was discussed briefly during an open session at its annual meeting in Grapevine, Tex.,­ last summer. "It's time we redefine our vocabulary," David J. Pauldine, president of DeVry University and executive vice president of DeVry Inc., told the audience then.

At the time, Mr. Pauldine emphasized how important it was for companies to change their language and align their culture with their new approach. He reminded his colleagues that when Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, got hold of some college companies' student-recruiter training manuals and internal memos and published excerpts of them in the Congressional Record, the language reflected poorly on the sector. The excerpts included a memo from an admissions supervisor at ITT Educational Services that said: "The department needs to focus on the selling of the appointment by digging in and getting to the pain of each and every prospective student."

The association held a closed-door session on Project Rose during that meeting but declined to admit a reporter.

A DeVry spokesman said last week that Mr. Pauldine, whose name appears on the document provided to The Chronicle, was not available to comment, and the spokesman referred calls to the association, saying it was an Apscu project. The official from Apscu listed on the document is Bob Cohen, who until the fall of 2011 was senior vice president for communications at the association.

The president of the association left in June, and a new president, Steve Gunderson, assumed office in January. Brian Moran, who has been executive vice president of Apscu under both leaders, said Project Rose began under the auspices of the communications department around the same time the association was changing its name. He said it was meant to encourage the use of "vocabulary that better reflected our mission of education." With the turnover of personnel and the association's focus on helping its members comply with new regulations on student recruiting, he said other activities have "superceded the issue of Project Rose."

The campaign was apparently named as a homage to Shakespeare's well-known musing in Romeo and Juliet­—"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The Bard's question appears at the beginning of the 32-page PowerPoint document describing the project. In the play, however, his point was that reality matters more than what we call it.

A "How We Talk" chart shows terms the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities proposed changing as part of a campaign for new ways to present the sector to the public.
Brands Institutions
Parent company University system
Starts New students
Call center Enrollment-assistance center
Write some business Accept applications
Phone script Appointment set outline
Recruiters Counselors
Career college Private-sector college or university
Mom and pop Family owned
Market presence Regional campuses
Teachers, instructors Faculty, professors (where appropriate)
Open enrollment Equal opportunity