Learning From For-Profits

NEW YORK — Sometimes at odds with one another, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors of higher education had something of a meeting of the minds here Friday.

Moderating a panel for the TIAA-CREF Institute’s 2010 Higher Education Leadership Conference, Guilford College President Kent Chabotar pressed two longtime higher education leaders to find areas where the two sectors could learn from one another. Among the participants was Peter Smith, vice president of academic strategies and development for Kaplan Higher Education, who said faculty at nonprofits need to embrace the data-driven assessments of teaching and learning that are commonly used by for-profit institutions.

Professors can view rigorous assessment as something of an invasion of privacy, but such resistance prevents real reforms, Smith argued.

"When [resistance] conflicts with creating a successful learning environment, then you’ve got a problem," Smith said.

Cokie Roberts, NPR senior news analyst, suggested Democrats will be reluctant to push for new regulations against for-profit colleges because they don’t want to attack a key revenue source for The Washington Post.

Smith brings the perspective of a person who has worked on both sides of the industry. While currently an executive with a for-profit group of institutions, he previously served as founding president for California State University at Monterey Bay.

Carol Twigg, president and chief executive officer for the National Center for Academic Transformation, agreed that for-profits often do a better job of using data to assess effectiveness.

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