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For-Profit Higher Education Takes Center Stage in Discussions on How to Meet Education Goals

In January, I attended the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. The focus of this year’s meeting was a bit different than in other years. Not surprisingly, for-profit higher education took center stage.

The question of how for-profit higher education fits into the academic picture is on everyone’s mind. Why? Because traditional academia faces a conundrum regarding how to meet the goal of the Obama administration of ensuring the United States is returned to the global leader in educational attainment. The U.S. needs to ensure that all students who want to attend college and who are willing to work to earn a degree have the ability to do so – regardless of geographic, economic, or lifestyle barriers, and that is where the for-profit arm of higher education definitely takes center stage.

Traditional colleges and universities in the United States do an excellent job of educating the student who goes directly from high school to college as a full-time student. There is no question about that. The problem is that to meet President Obama’s call to action, it is estimated that a greater number of older adults must enroll in college. The reality of today’s economy also dictates that more workers must re-invent themselves and learn new technologies to stay employed or to get re-employed if they are out of work. To accommodate them, all of academia must work together to understand our differences as well as our commonalities. There is a great deal each sector can learn from the other.

At this year’s annual meeting, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with Andy Rosen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kaplan University, and Trace Urdan, a recognized expert in for-profit higher education and e-learning. We spent our time discussing the differences as well as the similarities between the two types of institutions (for-profit and traditional), as well as some of the major issues we all face. I think some of the audience was surprised to learn that in many ways the academic culture does not differ appreciably. The for-profits do market to constituencies differently, but that is by necessity for the populations we serve. The Q/A session that followed showed that our audience had a variety of questions and were eager to learn.

It was a very positive experience, and I look forward to more information-sharing conversations and open dialogues with the traditional side of higher education.

Bill Pepicello, Ph.D.

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