Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level





Elías Domínguez Barajas

Committee Member

David A. Jolliffe

Second Committee Member

Sean P. Connors


Language, literature and linguistics, Education, Discourse analysis, Education policy, English, Rhetorical criticism


This dissertation explores the success of for-profit colleges and universities (FPCUs) as a socio-cultural phenomenon that hinges on distinct public discursive strains and neoliberal rhetorics. This project examines the role of language in creating and sustaining particular discourses of higher education and how those discourses are reinforced and reflected in channels of discourse like documentary films and advertisements.

In the context of shifting demands on and representations of higher education, this project critiques the evolving rhetoric of American education and the shift toward a wider acceptance of privatization efforts, as well as the effect this shift has had on prospective and current college students. Through a rhetorical analysis of for-profit college advertisements, as well as interviews with current and former students, this project explores the impact of promotional discourses on students who commit to such institutions. Among other modes, advertisements for colleges and documentary films about education have filtered a politically motivated narrative to the public that hinges on two related assumptions: that public education is a fundamentally flawed—if not failed—system which can only be remedied with market-based initiatives, and that preparing students for productive participation in the workforce is the primary goal of schooling.

As illustrated by the texts presented in this project—interviews with current and former FPCU students and analyses of public discourses—that narrative has have shaped he way that the public “makes sense” of education and supports particular education policies. Further, this paradigm has bled into the world of higher education and prompted colleges and universities to articulate themselves to the public as both idealized, nostalgic havens of the collegiate ideal and practical, economic, and utilitarian spaces to prepare students for the job market, which has influenced the attitudes and expectations of prospective and current college students.