Years ago, colleges employed people to perform auxiliary services. University employees staffed the campus bookstore, ran the student union, and performed janitorial services.
Over time, however, universities began outsourcing almost all of their auxiliary services. Barnes & Noble now runs hundreds of college bookstores. National fast-food chains operate stores in countless student unions.
Recently, however, American colleges have gone beyond outsourcing their non-instructional activities. Now, the universities are outsourcing their core mission: teaching students.
According to the Government Accountability Office (as reported in the Wall Street Journal), 550 colleges and universities are partnering with for-profit companies to design courses, recruit students, and manage instruction.
Academic Partnerships, one of the leading for-profit outfits, contracts with universities all over the United States to manage graduate programs--for a hefty fee, of course. Higher Education Inquirer estimates that AP collects about half the revenue from the courses and programs they manage.
2U, another for-profit online instruction provider, has a contract for services with the University of Oregon and gets 80 percent of the tuition for 2U-managed courses. That's a good deal for 2U's stockholders.
What the hell is going on?
As the Wall Street Journal explained, colleges are losing revenue due to declining enrollments. They aren't raising enough money to pay all their administrators and bureaucrats. Thus, hundreds of schools are investing heavily in online academic programs--especially graduate programs--to juice their revenues.
Respected public universities like the University of North Carolina and the University of Oregon have turned to for-profit companies to design or revamp various graduate programs, recruit students, and oversee instruction.
Why don't the professors do those things?
I don't know. Perhaps the faculty don't have the skills necessary to recruit students, manage enrollment, or design academic programs for an online format. Or maybe doing these things is just too fuckin' hard.
I have a professor friend whose dean ordered him to design and teach an online course for a master's degree program managed by Academic Partnerships. He was told the class would be conducted online over five weeks.
My friend was a good soldier and taught the course as directed. He had over 600 online students! When the class was completed, my friend told the dean he would never teach an online course that way again, even if it meant being fired.
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, students are often unaware that they are taking a course managed by a profit-driven company, not the university.
For example, the University of Texas at Arlington has a big-time financial relationship with Academic Partnerships, which manages graduate programs in nursing, education, business, and public health. Nevertheless, UTA's promotional materials do not disclose that Academic Partnerships manages these online graduate programs.
Students all over the United States are taking out loans to pay tuition bills at public universities in the naive belief that these schools are non-profit entities dedicated solely to the public good.
Most of these students would be surprised to learn that a profit-making company is sucking up a good share of their tuition dollars to enrich their executives and investors.
My take on this? If a public university is so goddamn lazy or incompetent that it has to pay a private company to manage its academic programs, then that university should be closed.