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The Allure Of For-Profit Universities Grows

The growing popularity of online-only and for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix is causing some to worry about their quality and legitimacy compared to traditional (“brick and mortar”?) colleges. But others see them as one important component of a new model of higher education—what author Anya Kamenetz calls “DIY U.”

From NPR:

RAZ: Most of the 400,000 students enrolled at the University of Phoenix take classes online. Very few have ever seen the main campus in Phoenix. The school is one of a growing number of for-profit universities. Universities that operate like publicly-traded corporations complete with listings on the stock exchanges. The quality of these schools has come under scrutiny by the Department of Education.

Anya Kamenetz, a reporter for Fast Company magazine, has written about the for-profit model. She says about 10 percent of students in America are now enrolled at these online universities.

Ms. ANYA KAMENETZ (Reporter, Fast Company; Author, “DIY U”): It’s growing really under the radar. You know, these universities, the Kaplan Universities that arise, they don’t fit what we think of as being higher education. And that’s for a good reason.

A lot of them just don’t have the same offerings that the traditional colleges do. You know, they obviously don’t have independent research going on. They don’t have the same extracurriculars. They don’t have community service. But they’re granting an increasing number of not only bachelor’s degrees but actually advanced degrees. University of Phoenix certifies tens of thousands of teachers. They give MBAs.

And, you know, all of this is happening without a clear understanding in the part of the public, I think, of exactly what online education or for-profit education constitutes. It’s a very different model. Their interests are different. The way that they operate is different, yet, it’s not something that the public thinks of that comes to mind when we think of higher education.

RAZ: Well, is it substantially cheaper for a student to attend a school online than to go to a campus?

Ms. KAMENETZ: Well, no, it’s not. You’d be surprised. A two-year degree at a for-profit college costs often significantly more than a public community college. And the cost for a four-year degree at a for-profit college is a little bit more to about the same as one at a public university.

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