The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The USC Online Degree Mill

Dec 6, 2021

USC is considered to be an elite university. It attracts the children of Hollywood luminaries and business moguls. And its campus is an impressive mix of brick Romanesque and faux-Gothic architecture dotted with fountains and reflecting pools. But behind all the glitz and glamour, USC is nothing but a degree mill that spits out online master’s degrees in social work, in order to collect huge amounts of money.

Over the last 10 years, the University of Southern California (USC) has used its elite status image in order to aggressively hawk its online master’s degree program in social work. The school has especially targeted low-income students from all over the country, often using very aggressive tactics. It then gets them hooked on crushing debt in order to cover the $115,000 tuition for two years of online classes.

The university charges online students the same tuition as students who actually attend the university in person, even though most online students never set foot on the posh Los Angeles campus. Nor do online students take advantage of USC’s vast facilities or mix with other students and faculty. Thus, the university gets a gush of new tuition dollars without the expense of additional dorms, classrooms, or other facilities.

Most of these students wind up thoroughly ripped off. A recent Wall Street Journal article found that not only were the students stuck with $150,000 to $200,000 in accumulated debt, but most also couldn’t even get jobs that pay a living wage.

And this money hasn’t just filled the coffers of USC. It has also helped enrich a high-tech company, called 2U, that USC hired. In return for a large cut of the tuition, this company has promoted and marketed the master’s degree program to students, as well as provided tech infrastructure, and even designed the courses. Since its first USC contract in 2008, the company has expanded to promote and run other online master’s degree programs at USC, as well as at many other universities.

This company is now one of the largest in a growing industry of educational-technology providers that set up online college programs in exchange for a cut of students’ tuition, while leaving more and more heavily indebted and bankrupted students in its wake.