Most For-Profit Solutions Don’t Threaten Universities’ Core Missions

Inside Higher Ed

John Clark
August 22, 2021
A guest post by John Clark, a senior consultant at WGU Labs and adjunct instructor at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill.
In a recent piece, Edward Maloney and Joshua Kim lament the “rush of big money into higher education,” which portends the “outsourcing” of “core capacities” to for-profit companies. The piece, while compelling, leans on a few tired assumptions about partnerships between for-profit companies and universities.
First, a definitional quibble: drawing clear moral stakes between “nonprofit” and “for-profit” outfits is a relic of a bygone era. Today, Team Nonprofit features many leviathans with endowments larger than the GDP of midsize countries. And Team For-Profit represents scores of tinkerers scrambling to meet next month’s payroll for a half dozen workers.
Yes, publicly traded online program managers occupy much of the oxygen in the for-profit space. But they’re a small slice of a pie that includes a host of innovators who more resemble, to deploy another weighted term, mom-and-pop small businesses.
In sum: I don’t see a rush of big money that threatens to subvert universities’ core missions. Most fruitful for-profit partnerships don’t require universities to outsource responsibility. And these collaborations rarely undermine universities’ ability to retain control of core capacities.