A report released this week by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Schooling (CFHE) suggests that much of online education — including courses offered by public or non-profit schools — is focused upon “profit”. In the case of non-profit schools, online education is a way to boost enrollment and reach markets that they otherwise could hardly service. As far as online for-profit schools are concerned, CFHE calls education “big business”.
According to CFHE’s report, with so much national focus on the “promises” of online higher education to expand access and to keep costs down, one truth about online higher education rarely mentioned is that it is huge business. In much of the public comments, online education is touted for its guarantee to dramatically increase access to higher education. To be sure, broad access to quality higher education is a valuable goal that should notify higher education policy in any democratic culture; but in many ways, access is not the primary goal of those promoting on the internet higher education.
Increasingly, on the internet higher education is big business along with huge profits being made by several private companies. We are told frequently that students will benefit from the rush toward more online learning, but we must ask who’s benefiting a lot more: students? or investors and corporations?
Whether it’s subprime mortgages or swiffers, the sales pitch always involves consumer-centered promises associated with convenience, savings, or grander “dreams come true. ” In the world of swiffers, the social cost of allowing deceptive sales pitches to frame public debate of products may or may not be problematic. But with a crucial social service like higher education, which affects individuals and communities in such far-reaching ways, the extensive cost of not looking behind corporate rhetoric can be huge.
The subprime mortgage crisis will be instructive. Problematic loan practices proliferated for years in part because they were executed in the name of expanding the middle-class desire home ownership. No one could differ with that desirable, over-arching goal, obviously; and consequently, few questioned the methods being employed by mortgage companies or the large profits being made.
American education has become huge – very big – company. Rupert Murdoch, for instance, has opined that education in the U. H. represents a potential investment opportunity associated with five hundred billion dollars. And traders are rushing in to get at those people profits.
“Ed tech” is itself a huge sub-area in the “education industry. ” According to GVS Advisors, an ed tech contacting group, investment in that sector strike $1. 1 billion in 2012, the figure almost as big as that in the dot com market. Profits are following for many investors in this marketplace area. For instance, in just one year (from the second quarter of 2011 towards the second quarter of 2012), traders in 324 companies offering male impotence tech products and services made $1. 43 billion.
Online higher education has also become a hot spot for corporate growth. The online higher education market has had an action-packed history in just the last decade and a half. Throughout this time, traders and corporate leaders have done a remarkable job of “following the money” to be made – expanding rapidly in areas where profits were strong, moving into virgin territory when new laws or other changes developed new possibilities, tweaking their ventures when faced with bad press or regulatory crackdown, and always framing their sales pitch to make each shift appear a boon for students and for our country.
The latest for-profit online innovation, MOOCs, seem poised to make a big income leap as well. Doug Barker, for instance, a funder of Coursera, sees them as a “very nice company. ” Despite having no substantial profits at this point and a product that is being given away for the most part, other traders seem confident that profits are usually in their future and are prepared to put up the money necessary to explore the possibilities. The three big MOOC providers, Coursera, Udacity, and EdX have “cash in order to burn, ” according to a report within Inside Higher Education : Udacity has received at least $21. 5 million of investor money and Coursera, $43 million. EdX, while technically a nonprofit, has been generously bankrolled with $60 mil from MIT and Harvard.
Again, the rationale presented towards the public for this latest online understanding innovation is high-minded and even utopian. With no acknowledgment of the dismal finalization rates for MOOCs or the Electronic Divide impediments to online understanding even in the United States, MOOC promoters (in the tradition of the for-profit on the internet industry from its inception) promise unimagined-before access to higher education and the dawning of the new age.
For instance, Daphne Koller, CEO for Coursera, sees MOOCs creating a “global classroom” that “erases barriers between people various cultures, ” gives students an opportunity to learn “without the limits imposed by physical or socio-economic conditions, ” and offers teachers everywhere “the ability to transcend boundaries. ” Sebastian Thrun, head of Udacity, sees MOOCs as “the beginning associated with something magical” and somewhat a lot more prosaically predicts “a tenfold embrace the market for higher education. ”
According to CFHE, this unsupported claims is perhaps the most glittery yet in the public discourse about online higher education. But it is also a diversion shifting attention away from the logic of profit-making. For parents, students, and the general public who focus primarily on what education and learning means for people’s futures, for social mobility, for a healthy economy and also a robust democracy, a dip into the insider talk of MOOCs, their traders, and industry analysts is each instructive and disorienting.
Whatever one’s feelings about regardless of whether private companies are a plus or a without in higher education, broader access to the full range of facts about corporate interests is really a fundamental requirement for a discussion that leads in order to sound higher education policy. Currently, the internet higher education industry is clear about its interests and pursuing them with vigor. As CFHE puts it, though, the public has too often been offered just slogans that pay lip service to the public interest.