- New Players, Different Game: Understanding the Rise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities
"Détente rather than distain" is how William G. Tierney and Guilbert C. Hentschke word the intention of their important contribution to the research literature on for-profit universities. The volume is a welcome addition to the often polemical writing about for-profits that has become particularly heated the past few years with the reauthorizing of the Higher Education Act. Tierney and Hentschke's work may signal a maturing of the research on for-profit universities in American higher education, and is especially useful in considering the larger public policy ramifications of the rise of the for-profit sector.
The authors start with the intention of comparing ways in which for-profit colleges and universities (FPCU) and traditional colleges and universities (TCU) are alike and different, termed "lumper" or "splitter" approaches. They note the general misunderstanding of FPCUs derived from what they describe as a "clash of cultures" and increasingly direct competition. From the start Tierney and Hentschke concentrate on the larger meaning of the for-profit movement from a public policy perspective. They see the rise of institutions such as the University of Phoenix as marking a shift in public policy that has traditionally relied solely on public and independent institutions as providers of post-secondary education.
Tierney and Hentschke cast a critical eye at the record of innovation in higher education and note (with some exceptions) that change generally occurs within traditional parameters. Conversely, basic assumptions and understandings of higher education, such as the tenure system and shared governance, are challenged by for-profits. The activities of for-profits are more radically innovative than what has been attempted within traditional universities. The authors draw an intriguing parallel between FPCUs and the impact of disruptive technologies on a market in generating new demands from student "customers."
In the middle section of the book (chapters three, four, and five), Tierney and Hentschke present a great deal of data and analysis drawing a detailed portrait of [End Page 240] FPCUs as a sector. The authors document the impressive growth rate of FPCUs brought about by their scale and efficiency. The role of faculty members is a central difference from traditional universities where a stated value is shared governance, while at FPCUs administrators impose greater control over non-academic decision making. Curricular decision-making is also driven by administration with the mission of for-profits centered on courses of study that lead in direct ways to specific occupations. The authors are particularly clear in showing where and how faculty members are involved in curricular decision-making at for-profits. Broadly speaking, traditional universities in some ways are constructed to meet faculty needs rather than those of constituents, while for-profits value faculty primarily for teaching.
The more important contribution of this book to the research literature is in analyzing the differences in mission of these institutions. Tierney and Hentschke point out that what is most needed is a better understanding of the particular advantages/ disadvantages and purposes of for-profit universities. For instance, the scrutiny that FPCUs are under for completion rates and job placement (partly as a result of past violations) is a comparative disadvantage. The authors sum up the overall strategy and strength of FPCUs as one of "focus." The simple mission concentration is a clear advantage for FPCUs, one that traditional institutions should note and learn from according to the authors.
The book concludes by arguing that it is very difficult to determine which model best serves students, and that with rising demand and different types of students, there is probably room for multiple models in the higher education market-place. Returning to the larger public policy view of for-profits, Tierney and Hentschke note that traditional institutions are responsible to the public whereas for-profits primarily serve the interests of shareholders. The authors argue that since the two sectors have different competitive advantages and...