Not too much sparks the fury of the education status quo more today than the privatization of education and specifically for profit colleges. Forgotten is the original mission of higher education from its origins at the start of our country: to deliver a practical, useful education. Would our founding fathers be embarrassed at the frivolities of the social programs and free form curriculum offered at many colleges and universities without any thought or reason to the useless degrees and unimaginable college debt accumulated to obtain those degrees? Many of these new degree holders are now landing back into their parent’s homes upon graduation instead of the once instantaneous promising jobs and careers.
Rosen’s book starts out with the history of higher education in the United States and the basic question of what the purpose of a college education should be. With the focus on extra curricular activities and the focus of “social opportunities” that many college existences concentrate on, perhaps the original focus of a “practical” education has been overlooked.
This books looks at the background of the earliest colleges in the US such as Berkeley which started out as two different schools, one modeled after Harvard and Yale and the other focusing on a practical education to farming, mining, and mechanical arts. Berkeley in its current life says Rosen “stretches the boundaries of practicality.” Typical classes, which can include the study of scrabble, can be part of the day of study upon which students retire to their spa style dormitories.
Rosen also points out that the ultimate education for many of us is the style of education that the Harvard brand brings. Many colleges have imitated the Harvard style and who of us hasn’t dreamt of the “Hahvard” education for our children?
With the inevitable “Harvard Envy” that Rosen outlines is the movement for institutions to market themselves upward by focusing on the prestige of the institution without a focus on student learning. Whole marketing campaigns have been focused on how many have been turned away from admission and how much money has been donated and what capital campaigns are underway to attract even more donors.
With the desperate economy comes a need for a more practical, economical education as many workers retool their careers for new ones or changing careers. President Obama has carried on the recognition of the important role that Community Colleges have in advancing the restructuring of our students educations and worker’s careers through retraining programs. Rosen points out that Community Colleges have also fallen into the trap of trying to “be all things to all people”. These schools are also functioning at this high level without a proper financial model that relies too much on state funding which is constantly cut first when state budgets get cut.
Enter here what Rosen titles “A Crucial Part of the Solution” – private for-profit colleges. Where others leave off, the private online universities and colleges enter the scene. Where scheduling and finances do not fit into or accommodate the new learner, the virtual education easily accommodates the basic and trying financial and time depleted schedules of today’s learner. The rigor and competency of the education offered has been fit into shortened time frames enabling the student of today to educate, where, when and financially when it works for them. The degrees such as the ones offered at Kaplan University (where Rosen is the Chairman and CEO) more realistically meet many more of today’s students needs than a typical, socially exhaustive, expensive university or college setting.
Criticism of the system has been addressed with quick and responsive changes that now address over recruitment practices and offers more personal support systems and tracking of student’s success not only while enrolled in the university but after they have left. Accountability will be the ultimate success of any system and the willingness to change and accommodate the virtual education world will be left on top. Rosen has deftly outlined the reason for the success of these virtual learning institutions and why innovation for the survival of the education system is a must.