Meet the New Boss

As nonprofit colleges have moved into online education, most have tapped technology vendors to help them do it. The study said these “online enablers,” such as Embanet/Compass, Bisk, Deltak, Academic Partnerships and Pearson, help colleges do much of the heavy lifting that for-profits do themselves, like course development, IT support and even generating “leads” among prospective students. That support industry will only expand, the study predicted.

Brand New Online Heavies,” Paul Fain

I have to say that after my experiences with the for-profits over the last few years the ongoing rise of the nonprofit schools seems like very good news. Non-profits, at least in theory, should have fewer administrative costs (no $5 million executives, for example) and so more able to put an online education within reach of working people and other non-traditional students. It won’t be cheap– not until some other part of the higher education economic model breaks– but it could be affordable.

The trends outlined in this article made my heart sink.  At some point, I think the ratio of full to part-time faculty, and maybe faculty salary, is going to play an important role in what the article calls (in an unfortunate bit of corporate jargon) “brand appeal.” That won’t happen soon. Meanwhile, the non-profits seem to be trying to get ahead of the game by repeating the worst mistakes of the for-profits, especially by out-sourcing so many services instead of developing them in-house.  We need more in-sourcing.

It would be a slower process, but a truly innovative school could integrate faculty development and pedagogy into their plans for growth. Most universities have programs in the computer sciences. Why not use these programs, building from available open source software and technology, to develop your systems, from IT to course management to support?  In fact, everything that you need in a university could be grown from the bottom up, grounded in education not grafted on to it.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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