Over the past decade, steady drops in state funding have created the need for new revenue streams at public colleges and universities. Similarly, private nonprofit institutions have felt the impact of the great recession on their budgets. As a result, many institutions are building out their online offerings to bring in more students and revenue by contracting with for-profit online education companies, who do much of the technical work and some of the core academic work.
To keep instructional costs low and maximize revenue, many new online offerings create low-paid, at-will instructor positions with no job security or opportunity for advancement, and require the teaching of information that has been preassembled into canned courses by contracted consultants. The savings on instruction are directed to marketing and recruitment programs to bring as many students as possible into virtual classrooms run by an under-resourced instructor.
As we know, these online education contracts often result in big losses for students and faculty. Faculty are experiencing a loss of academic freedom in their teaching, a loss of intellectual property rights over their original research and course materials, and the loss of the protections of tenure. When faculty lose the latitude to freely teach and research within their expertise, students lose access to high-quality coursework, lectures, and discussion. Furthermore, in a crowded and under-resourced online format, students lose access to substantive interaction and dialogue with their instructors.
Your AAUP chapter or faculty governance bodies can help regain what is being lost and ensure quality online education for students. Start by downloading the AAUP’s Education Not Privatization toolkit from our One Faculty, One Resistance site. The toolkit contains a primer on privatization, a list of ten actions chapters can take to help shape quality online education for students, and important questions to ask administrators about your institution’s development of online offerings with a private, external company.
Now is the time to act. Recently released deregulation proposals reveal that the DeVos Department of Education is aiming to further enable the privatization of higher education. The proposals water down requirements for establishing new accrediting agencies, limit accreditor oversight and give universities the latitude to contract full programs to unaccredited education companies that can market and recruit students using the brand of the institution. These proposals expand and normalize scenarios like Purdue’s recent acquisition of Kaplan University, wherein Kaplan, operating under the name Purdue University Global, benefits from the Purdue brand without the rigorous standards and quality.
P.S. For more on DeVos’ deregulation proposals, read New America’s “DeVos Deregulation Will Leave College Students in the Lurch” and Inside Higher Ed’s “Roiled Over Rules on Regional Accreditors.”