Phi Beta Cons

A Realistic Look at For-Profit Colleges

NAS President Peter Wood recently published an excellent four-part series exploring the future of for-profit higher education (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). These articles make excellent points that defend these publicly vilified institutions; Dr. Wood’s arguments are especially notable because of his position as the president of an organization with a mission of sustaining classical liberal education:

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.

Shortcomings aside, for-profit schools can aid in stimulating the birth of alternative options for higher education. Dr. Wood notes that these options are not relegated to clones of DeVry and Kaplan:

I am not sure whether it makes the best sense in the world to classify the New England Tractor Trailer Training School as a college, but it probably does less harm to the minds and character of its students than some of its Ivy League counterparts.

The current one-size-fits-all monopoly of non-profit colleges hurts both students who really want a liberal education and students who want vocational training. They try to be everything to everyone, and the result is a overwhelmingly a watered down education that does not challenge the mind, nor train one for a career.

Both traditional and non-traditional students need more options for their education.  Non-profits are not perfect, but legislating them away will not make higher education’s problems any better.

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