Newswise — Guilbert Hentschke and William G. Tierney, two professors with the USC Rossier School of Education, have been studying the expansion of for-profit colleges - such as the University of Phoenix and Capella University - amid questions about educational quality and student loan default rates.

Hentschke and Tierney, who is also Director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at USC, recently published their second book on the topic: For-Profit Colleges and Universities. Their Markets, Regulation, Performance, and Place in Higher Education (Stylus, 2010).

The third co-editor is Vicente Lechuga, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University who started working on the project while he was a graduate student at USC’s Rossier School of Education.

Hentschke and Tierney see for-profit universities as a viable alternative for working class adult students and other non-traditional and academically challenged students who are being squeezed out of traditional channels due to the current economic crisis.

“The Obama administration has set out goals for the United States to have one million more students a year to participate in higher education over the next ten years, and I don’t think we can reach this goal without the active participation and acceptance of for-profit education,” said Hentschke,

Among the issues explored in the book:

• How for-profit colleges and universities are expanding globally through partnerships and branch campuses.

• How the regulatory system for higher education – which defines parameters for the distribution of public funds - is impacting the evolution of for-profit colleges and universities.

• The tension between private enterprise standards and higher educational values of academic freedom and faculty tenure.

“Whether they are seen as good or bad, for-profit colleges and universities are providing access to higher education and also creating pipelines for educational opportunities at other levels,” Tierney said. “This demonstrates a response to increased demand for services that aren’t being matched by more traditional educational institutions. The challenge is to ensure that what they offer is a quality education.”

The authors suggest that if for-profits are to expand then greater accountability measures need to be put in place along with greater transparency.

“Their growing diversity and overall share of the higher education student market will likely subject for-profits to growing regulatory oversight, raising new issues about whether they should be treated differently from more traditional public and private, non-profit higher education institutions,” said Hentschke.

Hentschke and Tierney authored an earlier book - New Players, Different Game: Understanding the Rise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) - that provided an overview of the evolving trend. They are now focusing on management practices and accountability issues raised by for-profit colleges and universities.

Even as for-profit institutions continue to reach out to their historical base of marginal students, Hentschke said they are also looking for new student markets and collaborating more closely with traditional institutions.

For example, for-profit institutions are creating “pathway programs” – such as a college preparatory program between Navitas and Oregon State University - in which foreign students are recruited and educated by the for-profit institution.

Other for-profit institutions are collaborating with universities to refer nondegree, or certificate, students towards for-profit institutions. In one case documented in the book, students who complete a certificate program at the University of California at Irvine are eligible to continue earning a degree through Capella University. Demonstrating the expanding role of for-profit institutions, some for-profit colleges and university are also developing programs for K-12 students through charter schools and online schools.

In a more philosophical chapter about the role of for profit colleges and university, Tierney considers how the culture of a for-profit institution can co-exist with educational ideals of serving the public good.

While critics of for profit institutions may define “public good” as educating students for noble purposes, Tierney notes that for-profit institutions are forcing changes in the overall education landscape, and that the solution may lead to a greater emphasis on accountability among all educational institutions.

“The federal and state government has the capacity to monitor dropout rates, fiscal defaults and job placement, so it’s likely we will see a shift towards greater accountability,” he said. “My guess is that for-profits will be particularly hesitant to disclose such outcomes out of fear of lessening the worth of their product, but with the proper context students should be able to make informed decisions about their educational choices.”

Guilbert C. Hentschke, Vicente M. Lechuga, William G. Tierney. For-Profit Colleges and Universities. Their Markets, Regulation, Performance and Place in Higher Education (Stylus, 2010).