I’m always on the lookout for innovations in higher education, and with technology changing all aspects of life as we used to know it, higher education will continue changing. For instance, many students take classes online. Some may take a course or two online while attending college as others complete their whole degree without ever setting foot onto a brick and mortar campus. In fact, two of my current favorites are Western Governor’s University (totally online and competency-based) and Arizona State University’s pay if you pass freshman year program.

I’ve worked in higher education a long time and have my bias. I’ll admit it. One of them is for-profit colleges. Overall, I don’t care for their model. Really! I would never send anyone to one. Their first business principal is to make money for shareholders. And many, while providing education, don’t seem to be placing much emphasis on the learning that takes place or the well-being of the student. In fact, as the federal government started withholding financial aid, colleges started closing.

So here’s a conundrum. Non-profit colleges are raking in money too. Hopefully they’re reinvesting in students and services, but with ever-rising tuition, it feels like a gouge. That’s why I urge students and parents to become wise consumers of higher education. Figure out their goals so they are better able to make wise choices.

Now there seems to be a hybrid model of for-profit colleges – those that unabashedly make money while providing an educational experience. Several that leave me scratching my head are Grand Canyon University, University of Phoenix, and now Minerva Schools at KGI.

Let’s take them one at a time:

I’ve not really been a fan of University of Phoenix. Several friends have taught for them and the consensus was they paid low adjunct wages and students didn’t want to work as hard as the instructor thought they needed to for a grade. That said, they were one of the first out there filling the need of education that worked with adult schedules as opposed to traditional schools that wanted students to quit jobs to adhere to limited class offerings. Good thing that’s changed!

Now Grand Canyon University has a campus as well as online programs. Within their campus, they have Division II sports teams and are hoping to enter the WAC. That’s certainly not what one expects from a for-profit. They’re tuition for on-campus classes competes with non-profit colleges. They’re accredited. They make money via their online classes. But guess what? Non-profit colleges make money online too. Online is the latest cash cow. I know as I’ve paid out big bucks for online classes. I have a daily Google search on Grand Canyon because it’s one of my favorite places; I mean the real Grand Canyon – the hole in the ground. Consequently I receive notifications about GC University’s stock and growth projections. If they paid dividends, I might even invest as it seems to be poised for growth in 2017.

Minerva Schools at KGI looks like a new arena, a new concept – the world as the classroom. Students attend the first year at their San Fran campus and then travel to a new world city every semester with a small cohort of students. London, Berlin, Seoul, Buenos Aires – living in the culture and solving real-world issues via critical and creative thinking skills. Wow! Accredited! Detractors point to less than 2% acceptance rate in the first two classes and their saying they are a prestigious alternative to an Ivy League education. Saying it doesn’t make it so. I’m not even sure if they are for-profit or not-for-profit because their website say non-profit while reviews say they are for-profit.

Has the whole for-profit vs. non-profit argument run its course? I worked for a non-profit for 18 years, Let me tell you, there was a whole lot of talk about making money. For-profits often give tremendous amounts of money away too. Look at company foundations as an example. The lines feel as if they’re blurring in my mind.

Here’s the deal: I’m confused. I can’t make up my mind even though I read about colleges and college choices daily. Innovations in education or new wrinkle in scams? Sour grapes from tradition educators? And here’s a link to a news brief that came in on outcomes of student performance comparisons between for-profit school graduates vs. non-profit college graduates. http://www.educationdive.com/news/report-some-for-profit-students-outperform-peers-from-traditional-institut/433719/

I know for sure that higher education is one of many businesses that will continue to change as technology advances. Now, maybe more than ever, it’s up to students and parents to educate themselves on potential higher education choices. Start by deciding educational goals, needs, and affordability. The old adage, Buyer Beware, stays in play, whatever choices made.

 

Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at www.CollegePlanCoach.com. Find her books on college planning at https://www.amazon.com/Kira-Janene-Holt/e/B006Q9ZCZ2/.