In reading another education blog earlier this week, I had a rather extreme reaction. The blog post was about a conversation between a dad and his child on whether the University of Phoenix was a “good” school. The dad’s knee-jerk response was “no”. To be honest, I may have reacted the same way, but then I asked myself, why? Why would I feel so strongly about a school I have neither attended nor worked at? Because I had succumbed to popular opinion. An opinion not based on facts or evidence, but based on other peoples’ opinions. These same opinions which have led to a broad vilification of higher education’s for-profit sector.
There are essentially three words that come to mind when the word “for-profit” is mentioned and they are all preceded by the word bad; players, press, and publicity. But are these fair characterizations?
- Bad Players: So here are some basic facts about bad players in any industry.
They all start out meeting a specific need.
They all need to secure initial funding and continued revenue resources.
They all use current regulations to their advantage.
They all have good intentions.
With all of these facts, the truth is every industry has bad players. These bad players generally do not last for long. They slowly lose favor with the public and go out of business.
It’s been said that for-profits are “bad” for several reasons, such as, they exclusively hire adjunct faculty, they misuse federal funds, they mislead students, they have poor curriculum, they do not sufficiently prepare students for the workforce, or they are only in it for the money. However, if you do some reading in the Chronicle for Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, you’ll find articles addressing these very issues and they are not always talking about for-profit institutions. Many adjunct faculty say that they are held more accountable when working at for-profit institutions as compared to their public and private counterparts.
There are millions of students who earn degrees and would say they could not have accomplished their goal without the opportunities afforded by their chosen for-profit institution. For-profit institutions meet a very real need.
- Bad Press: We have all seen the bad press about for-profit institutions over the years. Some institutions have recovered and changed their ways. Some institutions are unable to overcome the bad press and eventually fade out into the sunset with a subsequent acquisition and name change. However, bad press is not exclusive to for-profit institutions. Plenty of public, private, and non-profit institutions find themselves in equally precarious situations. From sexual misconduct all the way to sham degrees offered for student athletes. As the saying goes, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
- Bad Publicity: For-profits have received a bad reputation over the years. So much so that there are institutions willing to spend millions of dollars to change their organizational structure to become non-profit just to avoid being painted with the same brush. Why do institutions respond by bowing to the pressure of public opinion? Why is being a for-profit organization in the corporate culture good, while being a for-profit organization in education bad? All institutions, regardless of organizational structure, need to be responsible for demonstrating their value to prospective students, graduates, and the public.
Higher education exists to promote the public good. Each institution should be judged on its own demonstrated quality. While it’s critical to ensure higher education continues to uphold high academic standards and support a collaborative environment, the discrimination against institutions based on organizational structure distracts from the focus on quality.
Why not invest in redefining the word for-profit in higher education?