The rip-off that is for-profit education is infamous -- Trump University, for one, was so badly run that not even its scam could keep it afloat -- but Alex Shebanow's well-paced, chock-full documentary, Fail State, manages to be surprising and infuriating nonetheless.
He tracks how private educational institutions of all sorts have for decades mined the American can-do spirit with empty promises, how reforms meant to aid needy students instead sucked public colleges dry and how bipartisan political hackery (committed mostly by Republicans, foremost among them George W. Bush, but abetted by the likes of Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi) shredded the regulations that restrained the worst predatory practices.
Politicians shouldn't be so gleeful: For-profit schools are essentially welfare frauds. Heaping student debt goes unpaid as their woefully unprepared graduates can't find work, and taxpayers pick up the defaults. Shebanow makes his case with the help of educators, journalists and reform-minded policymakers (and executive producer Dan Rather). But the students he interviews -- a grieving mother, traumatized veteran, African-American single mother and two highly motivated low-income men of color -- lay bare the heartbreaking human cost of these corrupt schools.
It's possible that the predators have finally gone too far. As the need for affordable quality education dawns on leaders along the political spectrum, a movement for free college has sprouted. Well-supported community college is the place to start, Shebanow argues. He should know -- he started at one himself.