The Journal of Higher Education 73.4 (2002) 547-550
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Higher Ed, Inc.:
The Rise of the For-Profit University
Higher Ed, Inc.: The Rise of the For-Profit University, by Richard S. Ruch. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 208 pp. $32.50
This book will prove a very valuable resource for all interested in the present and the future state of higher education in the United States. Ruch is a former academic dean in the non-profit sector and current academic dean at one campus [End Page 547] of the DeVry Institute of Technology. He has set a difficult task for himself: to convince readers, most of whom are graduates of at least one non-profit institution of higher education, that for-profit universities are viable, valid, and will endure. This "newer model of educational institution" (p. 24) consists of an environment in which students are considered openly to be consumers, faculty are "delivery people" (p. 118), and administrators are bosses. He argues that "the higher-education institutional landscape is changing significantly" and certain for-profit institutions are prepared to take full advantage of this change (p. 137).
Ruch elucidates many interesting and provocative changes. He characterizes very well the incursions of market strategies into higher education and also describes how well these for-profit universities, actually businesses, serve their clients. He suggests that the business management model will inevitably displace more traditional models. What will chafe the sensitivity of many readers will be the unapologetic linkage of education and business, which Ruch accomplishes proudly with both ease and grace. Yet for all of the compelling statistics and examples cited by him, his argument is finally undermined by his rhetorical strategy of continually opposing the "distinctions" that mark for-profits and non-profits (pp. 10-21). When Ruch defines these new universities almost totally in educational terms that are associated traditionally with non-profit institutions, he confuses the issue of essential distinctions and betrays a longing to return to the non-profit sector, which, whether he desired it or not, he has reaffirmed as the standard of measurement of success.
It is apparent that Ruch anticipates readers who will need to be persuaded and convinced that for-profit higher education is viable, respectable, and not "doing undue damage to academic integrity" (pp. 77-78). Hence, Ruch presents five examples of for-profit success. In spirit, these five universities wind up looking not all that different from their non-profit cousins. Practice is a different matter. Ruch asserts that each of these for-profit institutions is very clear about its educational missions, what it does and does not do, and the educational services it provides to its students. He claims that the indisputable value provided to their graduates in the current economic and employment environments, mostly measured in terms of job placement, helps these new institutions to reap the benefits of sustained growth at a time in which many colleges and universities are not growing.
Although for-profit education in the United States dates from the Colonial era, Ruch traces only the recent developments in these five for-profit institutions, which have benefitted from the economic atmosphere in the United States during the 1990s. He identifies 1996 as a year in which both the advent of the majority of publicly traded higher-educational companies and the U.S. Department of Education's recognition of for-profits as accredited educational institutions "elig[ible] for Title IV Funding" helped to increase "the number of institutions in the higher education universe by 7.5 percent" (pp. 60-61). The recent growth of for-profit institutions permits Ruch to assert that they have attained "a new level of legitimacy through the decade of the 1990s"(p. 51). As evidence, he presents five of the most successful degree-granting for-profit institutions: Education Management Group; Argosy Education Group; his institution, DeVry Institute of Technology; Strayer University; the Apollo Group (the University of Phoenix), "regionally accredited degree-granting institutions of [End Page 548] higher education that offer programs...