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Not-For-Profit Versus For-Profit Schools

Not-For-Profit Versus For-Profit Schools
When an institution is run for the benefit of growing the owner’s bank account, student learning (and pockets) can take a hit. Photo by Ken Teegardin.

Is the issue really whether a school is For-Profit or Not-for-Profit?

Isn’t the issue really whether an institution of higher education is being run for the benefit of the education of its students or the size of the owner’s bank account?

Not-for-profit institutions have pre-set entrance requirements. They have grades issued by professors that determine whether or not a student can move on in his/her coursework. They have courses with prerequisites that, with rare exceptions, are enforced. They have minimum requirements for faculty to meet to teach at the undergraduate or graduate level. They usually have research facilities and/or materials that the faculty can utilize to meet the institution’s research requirements. They have minimum attendance requirements for their students and have faculty-selected textbooks that meet some implied national standard for that level of that course. Overall, they focus on providing the student an education and the faculty a relatively free hand in evaluating the students’ progress.

The guidelines the Not-for-Profit institutions are relatively understood by all and adhered to by almost all. The faculty are encouraged to teach a class that covers the material at an appropriate level and the students are required to be prepared for that level course – usually be passing the courses that are prerequisites.

Admission is granted to most students who meet the pre-determined admission requirements, given the financial and physical constraints of the university combined with the desire for diversity. Financial aid is available to many but not all students.

For-profit universities that follow these same guidelines are not a problem. Unfortunately, many for-profit institutions have minimal admission requirements. A high school degree or GED is often the only admission requirement. Financial aid is provided to virtually every student. And a student who cannot read or write but has a high school degree can also be admitted.

Prerequisites may be listed but often are ignored. Student grades are often changed after submitted by the faculty, as the institution does not want to lose a student. The name of the game is retention not education.

Faculty are often not required to meet any minimum standard to teach a course. A faculty member with a Masters degree in basket weaving is allowed to teach a masters course in basket weaving.

Faculty and lower level administrators are treated unfairly and are verbally assaulted if students drop out or are flunked. It is the faculty member’s duty to ensure that virtually all students in their class remain in school.

The difference is not whether the school is for-profit or not-for-profit. The difference is whether the emphasis is on education or body count (read “money”). More students mean more federal dollars in student financial aid, which means more money in the pocket of the for-profit institution’s owner.

Do not misunderstand. There are for-profit institutions that are good and enforce appropriate prerequisites for the courses. They do not arbitrarily change a student’s grade just to keep the body count up. They do have real admission requirements and they treat all their employees as fairly as any other institution. They also provide whatever research tools are necessary for a faculty member to meet the research requirements they impose. But these are in the minority.

The issue is not for-profit versus not-for-profit. It is whether the emphasis is on education or retention. When the emphasis becomes retention, the education seems to fall by the wayside and the students and faculty are both provided a disservice.

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