I had intended to move from a discussion of for-profit administrators and teachers to the students at those institutions, but the volume of comments all but compels me to respond, if only by asking a set of questions. First, a few observations.
I value the informative responses by people who have had experience in the for-profit system either as instructors or as students, and I fully respect the comments by people who divulge their employment status at for-profit universities. Representatives from Kaplan College have been especially professional.
As for the people who report that their offspring think I’m a “moron,” rest assured, I’m not taking you seriously. Do you really think that family testimonials carry any credibility—with me, with The Chronicle, with the rest of rational society?
I think the collective commentary obliges me to raise an assortment of questions about faculty credentials and qualifications, the requirements necessary to teach at any college, for-profit or not.
First, my complaint was never with accreditation: I have no doubt that all the for-profit colleges and universities are legitimately accredited, either nationally or regionally. And I would hope that those who fail to measure up to accreditation agencies are punished (though I can’t help noting that the GAO report of November 10, 2010 notes that at a for-profit Associate’s program in Florida, an “undercover applicant was falsely told that the college was accredited by the same organization that accredits Harvard and the University of Florida”).
My real point was about the nuances of faculty credentials, the place of faculty on for-profit college Web sites, and their educational affiliations. I admit that my search was limited, some might even say impressionistic. I just looked at the homepages of half a dozen for-profits to get a general sense of how prominent a place faculty have. This is not a reference work; it’s just a blog. Again, as I said, I was disappointed. If you look at the homepage of any traditional college or university, the faculty—their credentials, academic affiliations, scholarly accomplishments—are prominently showcased. I did not find that to be true for any of the for-profits I looked at, aside from the University of Phoenix, where that information is right on the front page.
So here are my questions: Are most for-profits uncomfortable about their faculty and thus make information about them difficult to find? And if so, why? If I were a prospective student, I would want to know where my future teachers received their M.A.s, M.S.’s, MBAs, Ph.D.s because that would allow me to assess the rigor of their academic training and to estimate the quality of training I’d likely receive from them.
I’d raise that question based on an assumption that some would call elitist: It matters where someone earned his or her degree. Let’s face it, that’s an open secret in American educational discourse. A Ph.D. from Yale, earned in an intense interactive environment is not the same as a Ph.D earned online from the for-profit Walden University. I would go a step farther: One can earn a Master’s degree in Marketing and Communication at Columbus’ own Franklin University either by attending class in person or by taking classes exclusively online. I would argue that the differences between the two are night and day, and that the former is a far more meaningful credential. It’s a matter of opinion, to be sure, but I cannot imagine a graduate education without face-to-face interaction.
I admit, I’m the product of an exclusively traditional educational system which some might argue has turned me into a snob (B.A. from Brandeis, Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, jobs as a professor at Stanford and Ohio State), but I value educational rigor. And markers of educational rigor are all over the Web pages of traditional colleges and universities. I honestly don’t see it on the homepages of most of the for-profits I’ve looked at. I don’t see evidence that those institutions are proud of the rigorous training that their faculty have undergone or the educational affiliations that they possess. That evidence is apparently available at a lot of for-profits, and I’m grateful for those of you who have guided me to it, but if you look at the homepages of universities such as Stanford or Ohio State you can immediately see that their faculty is their greatest source of pride.
So I still want to know: Why aren’t the qualifications, credentials and institutional affiliations of the faculty at for-profits showcased on their webpages? Are these pieces of information a source of embarrassment to the institutions? Is the faculty turnover at for-profits so rapid-fire that keeping that information current would be impossible? If for-profits want the same legitimacy as traditional universities, they have to be able to answer those questions.