Developments in higher education over the past month could finally reduce the influence of for-profit colleges in online education. The recent launch of online learning platforms such as Coursera and edX pose a serious threat to the for-profit business model. Coursera currently includes classes offered by professors at Michigan, Stanford, Penn and Princeton. edX is a joint project between MIT and Harvard. These are some of the biggest names in higher education and they are offering online courses taught by some of the top professors in the world at no charge. These courses are open to anyone with an Internet connection. There are no prerequisites or enrollment requirements either.
While programs from Coursera and edX will not offer degrees, students who complete courses will earn a certificate of completion for each course that they pass. One can only imagine that it will only be a matter of time before these platforms also offer certificates indicating student mastery of a specific subject area, once individuals pass four of five classes in a field of study.
With these new online offerings from some of the nation’s top schools, one has to wonder why anyone would consider taking a course from the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, or other for-profit schools. Many of these institutions are routinely criticized for their questionable recruiting tactics, high costs, and lack of academic rigor. These issues eventually drew the attention of major news agencies and the federal government beginning in 2010. This led to increased discussion about how to regulate for-profit colleges. The rise of Coursera and edX could end the controversy over for-profits by drawing students away from them. Why would someone seeking an online program pay thousands of dollars for a credential from a for-profit school with a poor reputation, when one can obtain a credential from a trusted brand name school for nothing? Leaders at for-profit schools have to be worried.
Coursera and edX could also put a dent in America’s growing student loan debt, by pulling potential students away from the for profits. According to salon.com, while only 10% of the nation’s college students attend for-profits, they account for 25% of student debt. Furthermore, graduates from for-profits who take out student loans wind up with double the amount of debt of students who attend traditional institutions. According to the Washington Post, students who complete a bachelor’s degree from a for-profit school graduate with a staggering $41,000 in debt, compared to roughly $20,500 for college students who attend public colleges. That is a lot of money to pay for a credential from an institution that is not held in high regard. Wouldn’t students who are considering starting an online program today rather take courses from trusted and well respected institutions such as Stanford and Penn, at little, to no cost to them?
For-profit schools have to be concerned about their futures now that many well respected institutions are stepping into open online education. In this case, a little competition is definitely a good thing.