Should education be based on a for-profit business model? If we take the recent troubles of the University of Phoenix as an indicator, then certainly not. Here are some of the myriad of problems that the New York Times reports: the absolutely dismal graduation rate (16% overall while some campuses have rates as low as 6% and online degrees are 4%; as a comparison, the average American college has a graduation rate of 55%), 95% of the instructors are part-time (compared with 47% for all universities), and students spend 20-24 hours with an instructor per class compared with 40 hours for most universities. On top of all of annual tuition and fees are $9,630.
I do not have any experience with the University of Phoenix, but from the description in the NYT article, it seems to me that people might be better just purchasing some books and keeping an extra $8,000 in the bank. One of the reasons why this institution seems to have problems with the quality of the education it offers (for instance, Intel has decided that they will not reimburse employees tuition because the educational quality is not up to their standards) is because of the incentive to offer the lowest quality education it can get by with while attracting the highest number of students in order to maximize profit. While I think that there are some efficiencies that traditional schools should implement, education is inherently an inefficient process. Critical thinking at its best takes time to develop. Furthermore, it also takes human interaction and mentoring from someone who has thought through issues deeply and is already well-grounded in a particular field. This doesn’t happen through centrally planned curriculum and barely qualified teachers who spend a couple hours a week teaching a course. A good education reaps tremendous rewards–both fiscal and personal–and it is still an incredible value (more on this in a future post).
What do you think? Is for-profit education still a good idea? Is education inherently inefficient?