INSIDE HIGHER ED. MARCH 31, 2013. Let me begin by stating my biases about for-profit education.
I believe in the potential of for-profit education to be a force for good.
I believe that the profit motive is not antithetical to the larger societal goals of higher education.
In the same way that I'm happy that Google and Apple are for-profit companies (and not because I have stock in either), I believe that a for-profit design can be an effective structure for people to come together to increase social good.
Right away you may dismiss everything else I have to say if you believe that higher education and a for-profit organization are incompatible. Fair enough. But let's have the discussion.
The second bias that I have about for-profit higher education is that this is an industry that needs fundamental change if it is to reach its full potential of delivering social value.
I am a fan of the concept of for-profit education, less so of the reality as I currently understand the industry.
So it is with these biases (which I hope you dissect and contribute your own) that I offer these 3 suggestions to the for-profit higher ed sector:
Suggestion #1. Commit to Transparency:
Transparency needs to be more than a marketing strategy. A commitment to transparency must come from an understanding that the greatest challenges that your for-profit education company faces are not external (government policies, critics, etc.), but internal to your cultures and your organizations.
The place to start would be an inventory of all the places where your for-profits operations are visible and where they are not. How transparent are costs, investments, and spending? What is shared about how students are recruited and retained? How visible are your teaching methods and technology platforms that you have invested in?
A commitment to transparency would be a statement of confidence in the fundamental efficacy of a for-profit approach to higher education, and in your company's belief that it differentiates itself around the value and quality offered to students.
Suggestion #2. Elevate the Autonomy, Visibility, and Status of Your Faculty:
One area that I have not been able to get a clear picture about the for-profit sector is the role of faculty. My understanding is that most of the for-profit teaching is done by non-full-time faculty members. That this has been a choice both to bring in people who are working in the fields that they teach, and as a strategy to maintain cost control and reduce variation in the quality of the courses. Is this correct?
I believe that the for-profit universities have the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the market, and to elevate the quality and sustainability of their programs, by evolving their orientation towards their faculty.
Re-configuring the organizations around recruiting high quality faculty is particularly important with the rise of new models of free and low-cost education and credentialing. The best (and perhaps) only antidote to the existential threat posed by MOOCs is to invest in faculty who are qualified and prepared to develop strong relationships and to deliver personalized educational value to students.
Anytime, anywhere, online educational delivery and online educational content has become commoditized, with a price point rapidly dropping to zero. What a for-profit can invest in are faculty members that will provide high quality and personalized instruction.
Suggestion #3. Provide Leadership in Partnering with Non-Profit Institutions:
People who work at non-profits (like myself) have much to learn from our colleagues at for-profits. You do things differently. You make different investments. You face different constraints.
How can I take what you have learned to do what I do better?
What needs to occur for for-profits and non-profits to view each other as colleagues?
What needs to be done so that profit status is not the most salient (or even a relevant) marker for educational quality and value?
What are some specific ways that we can discuss and hopefully act upon these 3 suggestions?
What suggestions do you have for the for-profits?