Have nonprofits adopted negative for-profit habits?
- Rio Salado College is the nation's only two-year college with the vast majority of its degree programs offered online, and it is among a handful of nonprofit institutions drawing criticism for low student outcomes that resemble dreary statistics commonly associated with for-profit institutions, according to Inside Higher Ed.
- Federal reporting systems show that Rio Salado posts a 5% graduation rate. According to critics, practices at institutions like Rio Salado and Liberty University, which drew scrutiny recently for high loan-default rates among former students and seemingly lax requirements for online courses, closely resemble many of the traits defined by for-profits just before the virtual collapse of the industry in late 2016.
- Rio Salado officials responded with context about most of their students enrolling to earn job credentials or credits for transfer to larger institutions. But Phil Hill, a higher ed blogger, said told Inside Higher Ed that the lack of student engagement in online courses did not reflect an adequate online learning experience, even for credentialing programs and students with the ultimate goal of earning a degree elsewhere.
While many higher education advocates are concerned that for-profits, which are making a comeback, could again bilk students out of federal student aid funds, nonprofit institutions have seemingly mastered the art of how to attract students for similar online offerings and experiences under their tax-exempt banners. And because many of them have full accreditation, negative outcomes can always be attributed to the effort to pilot new learning models for diverse student groups, as a means of explaining poor metrics.
Research on the ROI for online learning indicates that the costs are not outweighed by potential or real earnings, and this is one conversation that may prove to be complex for nonprofits — even with legislators and policies that are aligned with their efforts. Without metrics of success, and with public investment in higher learning at a virtual standstill, low results will earn critique and consequence for any institution, regardless of an institution's tax status.
- Inside Higher Ed Defining what's 'good enough' on completion
- New York Times How Liberty University build a billion-dollar empire online
- Education Dive New study challenges ROI of online learning