recently piece, Edward Maloney, and Joshua Kim lamented that “a large amount of money is pouring into higher education”, which heralds the “outsourcing” of “core capabilities” to profit-making companies. Although this article is compelling, it relies on some old assumptions about the partnership between for-profit companies and universities.
First, there is a definitive sophistry: delineating a clear moral bet between “non-profit” and “for-profit” institutions is a relic of a bygone era. Today, non-profit teams have many behemoths that donate more than the GDP of medium-sized countries. Team For-Profit represents many tinkers scrambling to meet the payroll of six workers next month.
Yes, publicly traded online project managers account for most of the oxygen in the “profit” field. But they are only a small part of the pie, which includes many innovators who are more like (deploy another weighted term) home and popular small businesses.
All in all: I have not seen an influx of large sums of money that could subvert the core mission of the university. Most fruitful for-profit partnerships do not require universities to outsource responsibilities. And these collaborations rarely weaken the ability of universities to maintain control over core competencies.
“Big money” is smaller than you think
At WGU Labs, I work with brave edtech startups, most of which are built on lines of code designed to solve specific problems. These codes are written by dreamers, thinkers, and ambitious educators, most of whom can make more money elsewhere.
U.S. education technology companies raise funds in 2020 $2.2 billion. This represents 1% US$156 billion Invested in American start-up companies last year. The core of the highest education technology valuation is the investor’s assumption that the company will attract customers outside of higher education. (Interestingly, this is seen as the field failed to produce”quickly growing.”)
The open secret of the investment community is that selling things to universities is a terrible way to get rich. The entire potential market is too small. “Big money” may pose a threat to universities for other reasons—imagine Microsoft University—but it will not fall into the hands of greedy educational technology investors.
“Outsourcing” is a flaw in a successful partnership, not a feature
To be sure, there are many examples of universities outsourcing core competencies to third-party companies.For example, private dormitories are often exaggerated Inequality On campus, sometimes it may be scam.
But the term “outsourcing” fails to distinguish the difference between a clumsy handover to a third-party provider and a deliberate collaboration between an educational technology company and a university aimed at promoting student success.
When a CTO works with a company to plug an automatic booster into its learning management system, or when the director of continuing education and a digital skills micro-certificate provider join forces, students gain more than the university loses. The school retains full control over the learning experience.
“Core competence” is difficult to define
In their article, Maloney and King cited “academic department” and “football team” as examples of “core competence”. I hardly see any evidence of wave after wave of universities eager to outsource their entire undergraduate department. (To be fair, postgraduate courses are another matter.)
The football team is not at the core of the learning experience. In any case, they will soon be outsourced, which is correct. The sudden withdrawal of Texas and Oklahoma from the Southeast Conference may indicate that many projects will be separated from the NCAA itself.
I suspect this will have a negative impact on middle school students. If anything, letting wealthy entities fund football will free up funds for campus activities that don’t involve helmets. In short, major college football, should Be outsourced.
The future of for-profit and non-profit partnerships
I am a teacher and work in a non-profit organization that works with a for-profit company. I often sincerely joked that both students and companies consider me a “hacker”.
But my frank point of view is: (1) Educational technology companies will not dominate universities anytime soon; (2) When non-profit organizations control the steering wheel, cooperation with for-profit companies can produce very good results.
If I sound a little defensive, it’s because I struggle with this problem every day. As a teacher, I often hate the next great educational technology bells and whistles invasion. Sometimes I just want to teach.
As a partner of an edtech company, I often cringe at the tacit dismissal of for-profit solutions because I mistakenly believe that the creators of these tools are swimming in the cash pool. They are usually not.
Maloney and King are right to suggest approaching educational technology companies in a “thinking, cautious and cautious” manner. But this approach must also include curiosity, openness, and humility. Students, not institutions, are core stakeholders. They have a lot of gains.
John Clark is a senior consultant in the WGU laboratory and a part-time lecturer at the Dominican University in Helin, Illinois.