ERIC Number: EJ713311
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005-May
Reference Count: N/A
Reform Higher Education with Capitalism? Doing Good and Making Money at the For-Profit Universities
Berg, Gary A.
Change, v37 n3 p28 May 2005
For a business-person, the argument that making a profit leads to poor "product" quality would seem silly or worse, insulting. However, this is a common assumption in higher education. Similarly, increasing productivity (a typical business goal) has never been accepted as a worthy aspiration in higher education. In traditional universities, to evaluate academic programs in terms of costs versus benefits is to ignore the core values of the institution. Given this academic mind-set, it is no surprise that proprietary higher education has a bad reputation in academe. But the controversial University of Phoenix and other for-profit educational institutions are expressions of American culture at the end of the 20th century and perhaps an indicator of things to come in higher education. Through this article I hope to spark a re-evaluation of for-profit universities and an examination of the lessons they might have to offer traditional institutions about how to be more cost effective without abandoning a commitment to social good and to student learning. In many ways, for-profit universities have put a unique twist on the capitalist system. At first glance, it would seem that for-profits such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, and Argosy University are driven by a conservative, market-based ideology that focuses on the bottom line rather than on social good. But during my recently completed study of for-profit universities, I found among their leadership a number of now-established baby boomers with liberal or socially progressive values who claim that you can simultaneously make a profit and "do good," by which they mean providing increased access to higher education for historically underserved populations. I will argue here that the for-profit solution to the access problem is accomplished through an organizational model that concentrates on meeting the needs of ethnic minority, adult, and first-generation college students. Although it may seem counter-intuitive that for-profits, with fees higher than public community colleges and four-year universities, can successfully address the needs of these populations, they do so primarily through a focus on customer service and by filling gaps in the higher education system. I will also argue that they try harder than they are often given credit for to balance the pursuit of revenue not just with student interests but with academic quality.
Descriptors: Minority Groups, Higher Education, Values, Undergraduate Students, Cost Effectiveness, Social Systems, Proprietary Schools, Access to Education
Heldref Publications, Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation, 1319 Eighteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-1802. Web site: http://www.heldref.org.
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: California; United Kingdom (Cambridge)
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: National Assessment of Educational Progress