Andrew Rosen, chairman and CEO of Kaplan, Inc., uses this book to promote the cause of for-profit universities–and he does so reasonably well. Although parts of the text read like a recruiting pamphlet, I finished the book with a greater respect for the efforts of for-profit educators. There are conflicts of interest when publicly-held companies offer educational services to naive students, but there exist problems with not-for-profit institutions as well.
This book is divided into three major sections; the first of which deals with the problems of not-for-profit colleges. In chapters 1–3, the case is made that traditional colleges, both private and public, have engaged in costly spending sprees to construct expensive “spas” for young students. Dorms are now luxury suites, rec halls have become health clubs, and dining rooms are more like high-end restaurants. This is because the number of “automatic” students, those who have no doubt that they are going to college, is limited. Thus, colleges compete for the best of these limited number of students. Doing so, however, has resulted in spiraling costs. Community colleges are somewhat less able to compete on such niceties, as they rely more heavily on public funding and must serve a greater proportion of “non-automatic” students. For all of these non-profits, income is derived from a variety of sources, including tuition, government grants, endowments, research, sports revenues, and licensing agreements. Due to the many sources of income, these universities are not necessarily judged on the quality of the education that they deliver to students.
Chapters 4 and 5 make a case in favor of not-for-profit universities like Kaplan, Strayer, and Phoenix. Since their only income source is tuition, they must focus on delivering an education that students want, and will recommend to friends. Recent problems with misappropriated student funds are attributed to a few bad apples, and Mr. Rosen goes on to defend for-profit institutions as more cost-efficient than their not-for-profit counterparts. Just as land-grant institutions were once looked down upon by the elite universities, profit seeking colleges are now cast in a bad light. A convincing case is made that this situation will change, and that for-profits will eventually be seen as a positive force in American society. Unfortunately, at this time, there’s not a very direct way to compare education outcomes other than graduate employment rates, so it’s hard to tell how close the for-profits may be to meeting that goal.
A futuristic look at education in the year 2036 is offered up in the third and final section. It was intended, I think, to show for-profits as being best able to deliver future education needs. However, I found this section rather pollyannaish, with claims of educational materials being widely accessible and perfectly tailored to students’ needs, and with disaggregated learning credentials being universally accepted. Somehow, I suspect, educators will always struggle to prepare students for an uncertain future.
If you are interested in the economic realities of today’s universities, then this book is worth a read.