Earlier this month billionaire entrepreneur John Sperling died. His son, Peter, is in charge of John’s crowning accomplishment, the University of Phoenix, which finds itself struggling to survive. In 2010 Phoenix graduated more students each year than the entire UC system. Today, according to recent financial disclosures, Phoenix’s total enrollment has dwindled to 241,000. Phoenix, and schools like it, have become a sad joke.
It is too soon to finish the University of Phoenix’s obituary. Still, its story presents a unique vantage point into the difficulties of disrupting the simultaneously fast and slow changing world of higher education while Phoenix’s rise and fall provides a cautionary tale to supporters of education’s latest online fad: Massive Open Online Courses.
At first glance, MOOCs have nothing in common with proprietary universities like the University of Phoenix and its myriad sister schools and spinoffs: DeVry, ITT, and Capella. For starters, MOOCs are idealistic non-profits. Coursra’s mission is to “empower people with education that will improve their lives.” The University of Phoenix’s mission is to unabashedly earn money. MOOCs rightly chafe at any association with an industry known for its ubiquitous advertising, deceptive recruiting tactics, and default rates that dwarf graduation rates.
But there are certain similarities between the two online programs. Both have been predicted to disrupt education, in part due to their dazzling growth. They even share the same pedagogical criticism. In the early 2000s academics, worried that Phoenix would displace them by cheaply spreading their core curriculum online, defensively claimed that “The material may be the same, but that’s not like being in a [college] classroom.”
[ Full article available at The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-eger/whats-the-value-of-a-coll_b_5794832.html ]