Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to Tell Your Industry Is In Trouble: Scare Tactics Disguised as "Research"

I've blogged before (here being the most recent) about the troubles of the for-profit, online education sector. The stories of closures, cutbacks, and retrenchments - not to mention investigations and legal woes - over the past year have been legion, and at some point I just stopped chronicling them. The evidence of an industry sector in crisis is pretty strong at this point.

So what does an industry in crisis do? Why, commission its own "research" and try to frighten states into backing off with their pesky investigations, that's what. We are now treated to just such a spectacle designed to "prove" how much states would have to spend if it weren't for those wonderfully civic-minded for-profits picking up the slack:
If For-Profits Vanished
One can only wonder what sort of hair-brained economic assumptions are baked into this "research" model. Given the radical decline of state support for higher education in recent years, I doubt very much that state legislatures would feel at all obligated to pony up $8.4 billion even if Phoenix and all of its ilk disappeared tomorrow. And given the marginal success rates of some institutions in the for-profit sector, it's likely that many of those 1.4 million students wouldn't go to college at all - which might not be a bad thing, especially if there are good alternatives in vocational schools and community colleges.

The fact that this "research" is funded by Phoenix's parent company and its founder's foundation, of course, rather gives the game away. No, funding does not always buy the results that you want. But given that the authors of this report seem to have gone out of their way to avoid bringing folks who might have a more objective (or even dissenting) view on board, it seems a pretty good bet that this was largely "made to order". I just hope that state legislators (including those in my own state) ignore this bit of nonsense.

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