OPMs And Higher Education

We all are aware of the increasing costs of a college education, of the pressure of admissions and the role money continues to play, and in a recent article Kevin Carey tries to explain why this has happened.  He writes universities had a choice and when they were at a crossroads they chose the way of profits. When online education took off, and some universities signed on, it was, he says an opportunity for education costs to be lowered, particularly benefiting low income and others who couldn’t afford the costs of elite institutions and receive an education regardless of their financial status. But that is, he describes in some details, not what happened. OPMs happened instead. They are online  program managers, sometimes called enrollment managers, people  and organizations which begun as start-ups  helping students with tests like the SATs and were so successful they  branched out to eventually be partners in offering online degrees. Some are now also publicly traded and have been able to show a large profit for themselves as well as for the universities they partner with, showing profits of about 42% roughly half for them and half for the universities. They tend to have strong marketing and operate much the same way as for profit colleges do and did, and some of the same people are involved. The Education Department  divisions which  had tried to change the rules to protect students against for profit colleges practices are now apparently rather secretly rewriting these rules  and the author points  out that it looks like OPMs will be able to do whatever they see fit to make as much money as they can. While some view the role of enrollment managers as being more benign and as being of use to universities, what I find distressing is how academic institutions which are meant to guide people to uphold the values that make us an open society, have allowed themselves to be led by profit motives. And even more distressing in the case of their involvement with OPMs they have done so in a way that does not benefit the current and future students who need help.

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