What is the value of an education these days?

While slowing sipping on my hot coffee, I nearly choked when I stumbled on ASEE’s blurb describing the loophole for-profit universities are exploiting by buying up smaller, indebted schools AND those schools’ accreditations (see the Bloomberg article for details). Shocked, stunned, appalled are just some of the words I have for this new practice. As a recent grad of a now all online program, I understand the perks and costs of moving your education into the virtual realm. However, our program still faced the same accreditation criteria as all the other library schools. While I feel that some courses, like cataloging, web design, and collection development should also be part of the required course curriculum, I still feel comfortable knowing that every graduate has a basic understanding of how information systems (databases) function, the library field in general, and basic management principles.  By circumventing the process, for-profits don’t necessarily have to go through the 5-year process for the school’s overall accreditation and doesn’t have to guarantee basic standards for their curricula.  Furthermore, the accreditation allows the for-profit to start receiving federal student aid, something they would normally have to wait 2 years before receiving.  According to the article, 80% of for-profit education revenue derives from the federal aid aka via the taxpayer money.  No offense but I’d much rather redirect those funds into the community colleges, many of which offer nights-weekends and vocational training similar to the for-profit ones.  And, finally, they are using these accreditations to exponentially increase enrollment.  Again, I’ve been in that situation and the students always lose because the normal  intake and review of a professor’s qualifications and teaching ability are downgraded as a priority for being a body with some skill level who is willing to grade.  The number of professors who lack the ability to teach, lack the willingness to provide feedback, or make a course that engages the students and prepares them for their possible futures is a waste of the student’s time and money.  Furthermore, even though a school may promise to fire an underperforming teacher after a consistent lack of improvement over a series of semesters, the teachers are so desperately needed that no one gets let go because they don’t want to deal with searching for a new and better qualified person.

While I don’t know how to fix this particular problem, I do feel that this is a large issue to consider about the changing landscape of academia today.  What could we learn from the business models of these for-profit ventures that might help refocus or reorganize the public counterparts to be more effective?  What “fat” does the for-profit venture trim and what is the cost (in services, facilities, IT support, etc.) for students?

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