This evening, I came home to find a curious piece of mail addressed to my dog, Pete. It was a letter from Strayer University, a private for-profit institution of higher learning. The letter informed Pete that drive and ambition like his “can’t be taught” and that Strayer’s degree programs cover everything else. In case you think I’m making this up, here’s the envelope:*
And here’s the back of the envelope:
And here’s a picture of Pete:
On the surface, of course, I can see why Strayer University might have gotten confused when they sent this letter to my dog. Pete, as you’ll notice, is wearing glasses in this picture. Likewise, the gentleman pictured on the envelope is also wearing glasses. Additionally, and perhaps more to the point, Pete was, at one time, a stray. In this respect, it would make perfect sense for Strayer to seek him out.
Two factors, however, complicate this situation. First, as noted above and as the attached photograph makes clear, Pete is a dog. Second, and sadly, Pete has been in doggy heaven for a little over a year.
Just so I’m clear, let me explain what’s going on in plain English: Strayer University is actively trying to woo a dead dog. Again: Strayer University wants my dead dog to apply to their degree program.
On a more serious note, this letter reveals the lie at the heart of Strayer’s latest push for more students. Clearly, the language of this correspondence is meant to suggest that Strayer has targeted individuals who have a track record of being ambitious. More significantly, the letter begins, “Dear Pete, As someone who has already earned a bachelor’s degree,** you understand how critical a quality education is to improving your career potential.”
The intended message is clear: Strayer wants potential applicants not only to feel special, but also to feel as if Strayer has done their homework. We’re getting in touch with you, the letter seems to say, because we’ve heard good things about you. You are special to us. You are the kind of student we want. There is, in fact, something about you that separates you from everyone else, and it’s the fact that you have ambition.
Needless to say, the fact that this letter was sent to a dead dog belies the basic message of the letter. Pete, after all, was never especially ambitious, even for a dog. Now that he’s no longer with us, his ambition, sadly, has dropped to zero — which means that Strayer either has a seriously skewed definition of words like “driven” and “ambition,” or they’ll take tuition money from anybody who has a pulse. Or doesn’t have a pulse. Or isn’t actually human.
All of this really makes me worry about the future of higher education. It also makes me worry about the lengths that institutions — especially the for-profit variety — will go to to fill their coffers. While I’m sure (which is to say I hope) that Pete wouldn’t get through the application process on account of the fact that he’s a) dead and b) a dog, I have to wonder how rigorous Strayer’s standards are if its admissions officers can’t distinguish between humans and dogs or the living and the dead.
I can only conclude that what matters in the end to such institutions is not education but the bottom line.
*My best guess is that Strayer bought my dog’s “contact information” from a nonprofit organization. When we put Pete to sleep, our vet informed us that she had made a donation in his name to an animal shelter. Though I never thought of him as “Pete Schuster,” I suppose it’s not too big of a leap to assume that the donation was made with my last name attached to Pete’s. The shelter probably sold its list of donors so they could make ends meet, and Strayer probably got a hold of the list somewhere down the line. Again, this is only a guess.
** Pete did not earn a bachelor’s degree.