Counterpoint: For-Profits and Philanthropy

In his recent op-ed, “For-Profits’ War on Philanthropy,” Johann Neem misses the point. Unfortunately, his deep philosophical opposition to for-profit colleges and universities gets in the way of an honest discussion.  

While he’s absolutely right that public universities have long played a vital role in society, he fails to see that it’s ultimately the students, more than the universities or their legal structure, that matter. In today’s world with a very diverse population, very diverse workplace-skill demands, and a very diverse student body, we should celebrate the diversity of our postsecondary delivery system. I’d suggest that each element of higher education today — public, private nonprofits and private for-profits — plays a different, yet important, role.

As a professor himself, Neem rightly takes pride in the importance of not-for-profit colleges in society and their role in advancing the “public good.” What Dr. Neem should be focusing on, however, is the needs of American students.

Private sector colleges and universities offer unique opportunities for millions of men and women, particularly young professionals, military veterans and working parents.  For our schools, the first-time, full-time student right out of high school is the rare exception rather than the norm.  These institutions have enabled millions of Americans to obtain specialized degrees in a wide variety of fields.  If that’s not advancing the public good, I don’t know what is.

For many of our students, who are seeking higher education while maintaining a household and full employment, a career-focused and specialized education from a private sector college or university is simply the most viable option.

(Steve Gunderson is president and chief executive officer of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.)

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