I appreciate a plug as much as the next guy but I think Rick Hess is missing the point here while criticizing the Obama administration and Congress for being too hard on for-profit colleges:
One of the more intriguing for-profit ventures is Burck Smith’s StraighterLine, the provider of introductory college courses profiled in Kevin Carey’s terrific Washington Monthly cover story two years ago. Just last month, StraighterLine announced the results of an independent survey conducted by the evaluation outfit Hezel Associates. Hezel reported that 79 percent of students surveyed deemed StraighterLine courses were at least as rigorous as other options for getting college credit, 72 percent said it was more convenient, and 73 percent reported that it cost less.
Yet Obama ally and Senate education committee chairman Tom Harkin has blasted for-profit growth, charging, “The vast majority of for-profit schools have prioritized growth over education … So it should not surprise us that educating students is taking a backseat to just getting more bodies in the door.”
Obama and Harkin are concerned about for-profit colleges that build business models designed to suck up huge amounts of Pell grant and taxpayer-guaranteed student loan dollars, often leaving students with unmanageable debt. Straighterline doesn’t do this, for two pretty obvious reasons. First, Straighterline is not a college, so students aren’t allowed to pay for its courses with federal financial aid. Second, Straighterline is incredibly cheap. Students have several pricing options: A) $99 a month plus a one-time fee of $39 per course for as many courses as you like; B) a flat fee of $399 per course, or C) $999 for an entire freshman year’s worth of courses. (Straighterline offers twenty-some intro-level online courses in math, business, English, and science, all of which can be transferred into accredited colleges for credit.)
So when Harkin says “the vast majority” of for-profit higher education organizations are doing objectionable things, I’m pretty sure StraighterLine falls into the non-vast minority of those that don’t.