January 17, 2011

HIGHER EDUCATION: For-Profits Break the Monopoly on What a College Can Be. “The deep value of for-profit education is that it breaks the practical monopoly on what a college can be. The behavior of some of the big for-profits remains a scandal and needs to be corrected. They may be the robber barons of higher education. But the robber barons of times past bequeathed us a national railway system, a functioning oil industry, and the basis for a century of national prosperity. I’d gladly forgive the depredations of the for-profit colleges on the national treasury if their real legacy were to help the United States transition to a genuinely diverse and flexible form of higher education.” And the traditional institutions need competition.

But the empire strikes back where it can: “I recently learned of a case in which a start-up for-profit university offering only narrowly focused masters’ degrees in a highly technical field was advised by the regional accreditor to which it had applied that it really ought to add a provost to its administration in addition to the university president and dean of faculty. Given the importance of accreditation as the gatekeeper for student loans, the for-profit university is complying without a murmur. But on the face of it, this is an increase in administrative overhead mandated not by the practical need of the university but by the accreditor’s sense of how things should be done.”

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