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Can For-Profit Ed Act as a Bridge Between Liberals and Conservatives?
May 31, 2012 - 9:00pm

Dean Dad's post this week Thoughts on Romney and Higher Ed generated lots of comments, but I felt little discussion and listening.  When it comes to politics our IHE community seems to be talking past one another.

One area where I think that liberals (like myself) and conservatives might have a constructive and authentic dialogue, one where we actually learn something from each other, is around for-profit education.  

Dean Dad's mention of a for-profit example was, I think, perhaps not conducive to constructive discussion.   Dean Dad writes that,

"[Romney] upholds Full Sail University as exemplary, hoping nobody will notice that it’s more expensive, and less respected or successful, than its non-profit counterparts. He proposes deregulating for-profit higher education generally, as if its issues stemmed from too much restraint, as opposed to too little."

What Dean Dad leaves out is any possibility that we (people who work in non-profit higher ed) could learning some things from the folks at Full Sail University and other for-profits. By extension, learning from for-profits is not a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic thing - it is an education thing. All of us, no matter what our political persuasion and ideological leanings can learn from for-profits.

Learning from for-profits does not mean that we need to emulate them. And learning from for-profits does not imply that we agree with all their methods or practices, or even think that higher education should be a good distributed via the market. Rather, we can take what we learn from for-profits and strengthen our institutions.

Unfortunately, opportunities for for-profits and non-profits to share experiences and best practices are not abundant. I have an idea that for-profits may be making significant advances in learning technology, course design, faculty development, mobile learning delivery, student support, learning analytics, and assessment. But I don't have any clear idea about the specifics of these advancements, or how I would bring these practices to my institution.  I'd like to create a space for these interactions, but I don't really know how to do it.

I'm also hoping that in working with for-profits that I'd be exposed to colleagues with different political orientations than my own. This is not to say that people who work in for-profits are by nature more conservative, in my experience they are all over the political map. But it may be the case that people who work in for-profits are more open to ideas that are different from those of people who work in non-profits, the colleagues I spend most of my time with. At least educators in for-profits will have had different experiences, and these experiences will enrich discussion.

Liberals and conservatives may not agree on much when it comes to higher education and the overall desirability of a growing for-profit sector. But liberals and conservatives can agree that we all want to understand the best methods, models and technology for effective teaching and learning. That common goal just might be a bridge.


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