I work at a for-profit online college, and I worry about the future of our industry and my job, but I refuse to swallow the same old conservative Kool Aid that says that government can do nothing right and that the private market is always and everywhere the best choice. What’s hurting the industry now more than anything is its ongoing resistance to common sense regulations. We don’t produce a commodity, of course, we produce a particular kind of service, and service industries thrive only when they are properly regulated.
I guess that a few libertarian economists would argue that, say, we can have a medical industry without rigorous government regulation, but I doubt any one but the true believers would agree. The question is not whether there are regulations, the question is whether we get effective regulations that we can use to build a solid foundation for our educational capital. I think Daniel J. Solove’s call for transparency and privacy protection, for example, (“Gainful Employment: A Privacy Black Hole?“) makes a lot of sense in this context.
The argument over our industry, however, is littered with conservative banality that has never made any logical, much less economic sense. In “Democrat Discrimination in Education” for example, Kevin Jackson and Joe Wurzelbacher make all sorts of absurd claims that won’t help anyone, from the silly and hyperbolic “Democrats have declared all-out war on for-profit education” to the utterly nonsensical: “proprietary colleges are the direct competitor to public-sector education.” The “direct” competition is within the system. We work at the margins.