There was a time, just a few years ago, when many of us believed that for-profit education was about to take over the world. It seemed perfectly reasonable that, since online technology changes everything, community colleges had better adapt or perish. Let the free market provide instruction, as it provides other commodities. The train is leaving the station, whether you are on it or not, Buster.
Well, online instruction is certainly here to stay but, as it turns out, the for-profit sector of higher education is hurting. The giant University of Phoenix (with campuses all over the country) has experienced massive layoffs and is considering "going private," due to falling stock prices, according to Matt Reed of Inside Higher Ed. Plus, many proprietary schools are in deep trouble with the feds over false advertising about purportedly lucrative—and perhaps fraudulent—job prospects, while students borrow heavily to pay private tuition and fees.
Investors are probably wishing they had never heard of this particular opportunity.
Some MOOCs are doing okay, but many of the more successful operations are reportedly non-profit. And the completion rates tend to be very low, especially for the kind of introductory classes offered already at community colleges. Who knew?
We all have trouble resisting the siren call of the Next Big Thing. Sometimes we do things simply because we can—an attitude almost certain to cause problems. But we can't help it: We're Americans. We hear the beating of the tom-tom, march like ants to molasses, and dance on the tables, in tribute to the Next Big Thing.
Comic writer (and native Texan) Jack Handey said it best, in one of his Deep Thoughts:
“I think a new, different kind of bowling should be “carpet bowling.” It’s just like regular bowling, only the lanes are carpet instead of wood. I don’t know why we should do this, but my God, we’ve got to try something!”