Since the mid-80s, the early adopters and pioneers of online education, many of whom were for-profit, faced and continue to face criticism. This criticism, stemming from the traditional higher education sector, ranges from the method of delivery to academic quality and sometimes everything in between. If online education is being widely accepted, as reported by daily news articles, why is it good for traditional institutions and not for all institutions? After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
For-profit institutions were founded with specific missions and purposes of serving those students who are unable to be successful or effectively served by traditional higher education. They were not looking to target the same population as those served by public and private traditional institutions, but provide a pathway to degrees for working, adult students.
While many of these for-profit institutions have taken the criticism in stride, they worked over the years to consistently deliver educational value that meets the needs of a changing economy. They harnessed the power of technology. They met the same accreditation standards as traditional institutions. They demonstrated their academic quality through the success of their graduates.
Despite the intense scrutiny, snide remarks, and uninformed opinions, higher education’s double standards are daily making headlines. Public and private institutions, grounded in higher education tradition, are turning to online education not because of an expanded scope in their mission, but to capitalize on the online education market and increase enrollments.
These institutions are using the very resources and business model that are so heavily criticized of for-profit institutions. These resources and methodologies have taken years to refine. The belief is that online education is easy; however, the needs of the online student are vastly different than those of a traditional student which is why they chose to pursue an online education.
Why is it that for-profit institutions are vilified for only going after tuition dollars and enrollments, when some traditional institutions enter the online arena for the very same reasons? When you peel back the layers, the major difference is in the mission. Online education providers have worked hard over the years to refine their processes, procedures, and curriculum to better meet the needs of students. The same can be said for traditional institutions who have delivered quality curriculum to students who thrive in a classroom, face-to-face environment.
Higher education is more important than ever before to a growing population of students who need the knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet the demands of a changing economy. All institutions need to explore improvement efforts that move them in new directions in order to serve students. The focus should be on maximizing institutional strengths and not on criticizing other institutions based solely on organizational structure. All institutions face the same challenges and must also meet the same quality standards. How institutions meet these challenges is where the innovation lies. Students need value options that help them achieve their educational goals.
How can we eliminate higher education double standards while focusing on our own institutional outcomes?