I am biased against for-profit schools. I have long thought of them as diploma mills, without ever having visited one. I like public charter schools, but only if they are non-profit. When Kaplan Inc., then the most profitable division of The Washington Post Co., built a chain of for-profit colleges, I never wrote about them.
Teachers I admired saw education as a public trust. They weren't in it for the money. They wanted to help kids. I noticed that Edison Schools, a management network run by some smart and well-meaning people, failed to win the confidence of many parents and teachers because it, too, was trying to make a profit.
Now those of us who think this way have been vindicated. The federal government has tightened regulation of for-profit colleges, including Kaplan's, in response to criticism that many students were being misled about loans they were likely to need to obtain a degree. This has put the entire industry on the defensive.
Enter Andrew S. Rosen, Kaplan's chairman and chief executive officer, with a new book called "Change.edu: Rebooting for the new talent economy." Who does Rosen think he is, extolling the virtues of for-profit schools while his company faces such threats?
I wasn’t sure I wanted to read the book or write about it. As a 40-year employee of The Post, anything bad I say might seem too little too late, and anything good would be taken as trying to protect the company. I was glad Rosen agreed his company had messed up. He did not shake my feeling that profits and teaching are a bad mix, but I did learn things I needed to know.
Despite the industry’s troubles, Rosen convinced me that for-profit educational ventures are here to stay. People who feel as I do will have to adjust to that.
Here are five reasons why:
People like me may want for-profits to disappear, but that is not going to happen. They seem destined to become a significant part of what college means in the United States. While we are cleaning them up, we should think about what our own alma maters can learn from them.