THE BOSTON GLOBE: For-profit universities are not inherently bad

Career College Central Summary:

  • IT IS with good reason that for-profit universities have become in recent years a punching bag for the Federal Trade Commission, state government boards of inquiry, assorted litigants, and the media. Today’s for-profit universities are largely inhabited by short-sighted leaders who make lofty claims about vocationally relevant education while at the same time milking the working poor, the harried single parent, the returning veteran, and, particularly, the possessor of government loans.
  • But it doesn’t have to be this way. For all their problems, for-profit universities are not inherently bad — just empirically bad. There is no insurmountable barrier to for-profit universities doing better for their customers and for society.
  • The so-called “tax-paying” colleges and universities are largely — almost entirely in many cases — dependent on government funds provided indirectly through transfers from federally subsidized loans and Pell grant programs designed to create opportunity for students. Yet federal data reveal that for-profit universities spend less on instruction than they receive in federal aid on a per-student basis. They also spend far less than traditional public and private universities on instruction — nearly $6,000 less per student than public schools and more than $9,000 less per student than private schools.
  • Clearly, for-profits are not performing as we would want. So what would good, socially valuable for-profits look like? They would play to their undeniable strengths — and stop trying to be what they’re not.
  • Whatever route they take, for-profit universities should first consider embracing their capitalistic identity rather than hiding from it. In some cases, for-profits operate under names that powerfully project an image that distances them from their corporate DNA. America Public University is not a public university nor is the American Military University a part of the military. Both are subsidiaries of West Virginia-based American Public Education, Inc., traded on the NASDAQ as APEI at about $34 per share at the time of writing this article. Columbia Southern University is not an extension of the Ivy League beyond the Mason-Dixon line but rather a standalone Alabama-based for-profit. The New York- and New Jersey-based for-profit Berkeley College evokes the familiar abridgment of University of California at Berkeley as just “Berkeley.” The Minnesota company doing business as Brown College is not to be confused with the exclusive and prestigious Brown University that has been situated in Rhode Island for 250 years.

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