Whose Course Is It Anyway?

by | Jul 27, 2022

Disappointed students who dropped out or were driven into debt. Subpar course instruction from a non-accredited institution. Duplicitous “merit scholarships” offered by “counselors” who were call center employees, not university staff.

These are just three of the most troubling findings from a recent Wall Street Journal investigation into for-profit companies that lure unsuspecting students to enroll in bootcamps, certificate courses, and other higher education offerings using the logos and reputations of prestigious institutions as a recruiting tool. The truth, however, is that many of these companies are only loosely affiliated with the universities they claim to represent, with far greater emphasis placed on marketing than matriculation.

One such company prominently featured in the article – 2U, Inc. – keeps 60% of the tuition charged for online degree programs it manages for various universities and a whopping 80% for so-called boot camps, according to documents reviewed by the Journal. Unfortunately, many students take out significant loans to complete these programs, which often fail to teach the full skill set that students would acquire in a similar program offered directly by an accredited university.

“It’s a shame that students, especially, are being taken advantage of by these types of companies. But it’s also a loss for higher education overall when the wholesale outsourcing of new courses and programs becomes normalized,” shares one university administrator. “It would be nearly impossible for our institution to hire a third party to develop an entire program and expect alignment with our broader pedagogical approach and strategic goals. I can only imagine that under such circumstances the student experience would be greatly diminished.”

At MF Digital Marketing, we partner with universities that place a high value on building their own courses in response to changing market conditions and student needs. We find that the upfront investment in course design and curriculum development pay off greater dividends by attracting students who are serious about the program and in turn become some of its greatest champions upon graduation.

“The conflicts of interest that accompany partnerships that build our courses and also run admissions are a big factor in why we have kept those functions inside the college and university,” explains Eric Menkhus, former Associate Dean for graduate programs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. “Controlling both of those processes allows us to tailor our courses for particular students that we believe have a high probability of success in our program. We also fully control the admissions process to admit the students for whom the classes are designed. It’s more responsibility on us; however, we believe it leads to much better student outcomes.”

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