The Competitivenss of For-Profit Education

The Competitivenss of For-Profit Education

Proponents of for-profit education often state that for-profit university is ‘competitive’ with traditional education. In this post, I give the opinion that for-profit education can be competitive at the elementary and perhaps secondary level, but I do not believe it can be competitive at the tertiary level. I have no moral problem with the idea of a for-profit university, it’s just that I have never seen one that was successful at making money and delivering more than the most mediocre of academic quality. In fact, it is my main point that The State has developed a monopoly on the quality of tertiary education. As a result, it is impossible – yes, impossible – for for-profit universities to compete on anything other than their ability to generate income for their share holders.

This post about Grand Canyon University seems to challenge my point. I had never heard of the school before I read this post, so I suspect virtually none of my readers have. Let me give you some background. This Wikipedia bio describes the school as a Christian school that was being forced out of business for financial reasons. In 2004, it was bought by the for-profit group Significant Education, which has only this web page. Since then, the school has undergone a number of reforms aimed at reducing cost, keeping the school open, and generating a return for share holders (1), (2), (3), (4).

It’s hard to argue a school that’s still open isn’t more competitive than a school that’s closed. So in that sense Grand Canyon University is far more competitive as a for-profit than it ever was in its previous incarnation as a financially failing institution. But none of this goes very far in addressing my main point that only an academically low quality schools can be operated on a for-profit basis.

So what kind of academic quality does Grand Canyon University provide? US News and World Report ranks GCU as a fourth-tier university. More interestingly is the school’s website which does not allow prospective students to access anything more than trivial information about academic matters. For example, there is virtually no information about the faculty of the school. The Faculty Bio webpage states only the vaguest of information. It has this to say about the faculty teaching on-line courses, who would have all been hired since the take over,

When it comes to our Online programs, we have over 800 online faculty members throughout the nation, many of whom have active careers in the fields in which they teach. Almost 66% of our online faculty members have their master’s degrees, while over 33% have their doctoral degrees.

This is in comparison to their on-campus faculty

In our Phoenix Campus programs, we have approximately 110 faculty members and 57% hold their doctoral degree.

It would appear that their faculty, since becoming a for-profit university, is composed primarily of part-time masters degree holders. The new, lean Grand Canyon University thus appears much more like a community college or a private university in Taiwan than what most of us think of when we hear the term university. I suspect that any research or scholarly activity that ever came out of the school has now stopped – but then, I can only guess at this, since the webpage provides no information on these matters.

While prosepctive students at GCU can find none of the information about faculty that public schools generally list,  such as names, publications, or qualification, there is plenty of information about the opinions of students. The website is also cluttered with course outlines. And while it is impossible to find out who will teach you, you can find a picture of the school’s CEO and a list of the directors and chief executives of the school corporation.

I have no doubt that GCU is more competitive now than had it closed its doors forever. By definition this has to be true. But there is no way anyone can argue that the academic quality of the school has been maintained by change. The school never was academically strong, and the take over has only switched teaching from full-time doctorate holders to cheaper and more flexible, less qualified faculty. So maybe the school makes more money as a for-profit, but that by definition has to be true. It is clearly not a better place to study than it was before.


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