A View From MiddleMgmt of the U of P

Great dialogue this week in our discussion of the relationship between the for-profit and non-profit educational sectors. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.

September 8, 2010

Great dialogue this week in our discussion of the relationship between the for-profit and non-profit educational sectors. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.

In this post I'd like to quote extensively from MiddleMgmt, an employee on the "business side" of the University of Phoenix. The following quotes are taken from two e-mails that MiddleMgmt sent me. MiddleMgmt has asked that I protect their identity. The question of unnamed sources is one I don't really have my head around. In this case, I'm convinced that MiddleMgmt is both who they say they are, and that MiddleMgmt is approaching this discussion with genuine balance and a desire to honestly move the debate forward.

I'd very much like to hear the ideas from someone in the leadership of a for-profit, with the hope they will take MiddleMgmt balanced approach.

I've edited some for brevity:

"I work for University of Phoenix and as I said am not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization."

"On the one hand UofP has had some bad policies in the past. But the last two years (since management at the top changed) there has been a real change in attitude. However in an organization this big it takes time for all of those changes to make it to the front lines. 475,000 students (we've graduated more than 100,000 this year) and 50,000 employees, operating in 43 states is challenging by any standards. And when you are the biggest, you have a big target on your back. Thus it was inevitable that there would be employees who hadn't gotten the memo yet. (You wouldn't believe the memos, videos, etc that are going out now though. No one will be able to claim they don't know. The message is clear - do what is right for the student first; treat them as you would your closest family. That was the message before, but now employees are hearing it loudly, clearly, and constantly.)"

"Here's something that may not have trickled out to the rest of higher ed although I am sure it has to the investment community. We've been piloting a University Orientation program since last year. Any student who enters with less than 24 credits will be required to take a FREE 3 week course whose goal is to make sure they know what they are getting into. Specifically it gets them familiar with our online environment, ensures that (whether ground or online) they have the necessary computer resources to do their work, gives the student an idea of the level of time and effort they will have to put in and gives the instructors a view into which students are really under-prepared. A student has to pass it in order to enroll in other courses, and that is NOT a guaranteed thing. It rolls out to all campuses and all online students this fall."

"What is interesting about the program is that management is taking a long-term view of it. The students who have traditionally dropped within the first couple of classes now find out sooner and drop before they take out loans or spend their own money. The payoff is that the students who start retain for longer and fewer default on their loans in the long run. But notice, that is a long-term outcome. We lose money up front because of those students who drop out before starting a paying class. (Although admittedly that revenue often turned into bad debt.) I'm actually really proud that the university had the long-term vision necessary for this. In many ways it goes against what standard business practices advises; maximize profit now. But it is definitely the right thing to do for the students."

"Can I gripe about something for a moment? One of the things that has been killing me in this debate is the tendency to lump all for-profits into a single category and paint the sector with a single broad brushstroke. As in any industry, there are good and bad organizations, big and small. But the result is that people are missing the subtlety. You are one of the few who acknowledge that for-profits are doing something (anything) well, which is why I chose to reach out to you. I really appreciate that."

I don't read anything in this response that could or should not be written by an "official" University of Phoenix spokesperson. I'd like to again extend the invitation to have this discussion - and maybe we could think of ways to move this discussion off this blog. Any ideas?
Do you think we are moving towards an authentic positive dialogue, or are we destined to talk past each other?

Am I correct that the for-profits and the non-profits need each other, and that together we need to find ways to move higher education away from the existing status quo?


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