Higher Ed Research Roundup

With much of the potential drama of the annual meeting having unfolded before it began — with the cancellation of a planned session on the validity of the National Survey of Student Engagement — there was no obvious center of gravity as the members of the Association for the Study of Higher Education gathered here. Instead, the conference offered its usual dizzying array of topics for exploration — from student access and persistence to the changing role of the faculty to countless sessions on diversity.

Below are a few highlights of the meeting, at least through the eyes of one observer:

Pros and Cons of For-Profits

For-profit colleges have become a growing force in higher education, with their enrollments surging (this year's totals notwithstanding) to a proportion of all postsecondary students that almost begins to equal the share of all negative higher ed-related headlines that they generate.

But the scholarly scrutiny of the institutions has lagged, from a combination of lack of interest and understanding on the part of researchers educated in traditional institutions and the historical difficulty in studying private institutions that have few requirements to open their doors and their data.

That is beginning to change, with several universities (including the State University of New York at Albany and the University of Southern California) developing research specializations in for-profit higher education and the number of sessions and presentations on the topic edging up slowly at meetings like this one.

A pair of papers by California researchers at the ASHE meeting provided a fascinating one-two punch in macro- and micro-level analyses of the role of for-profit colleges in the current higher education universe.

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