Faculty Organization Chides For-Profit Online Education Companies

The report says private companies make decisions to boost profits, not improve quality for students.

A new report argues private companies venture into online education to make money, not to help students.
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A recent analysis based on data from 29 different courses found that the average completion rate for most MOOCs was less than 10 percent.

"What is notably absent in industry discussion of online higher education are details about what most people care about–the quality of the student's educational experience that results from these innovations or the larger social impact of these new methods of teaching and learning," the report says. "Instead, the burning questions focus squarely and exclusively on what will make money for particular companies."

[READ: The Challenge of Balancing Online Classes With Work]

Representatives from Coursera did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and Udacity declined to comment on the report.

EdX, a nonprofit MOOC provider, was also mentioned in the report in relation to its partnerships with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which together provided $60 million to the company. EdX also declined to comment on the report.

Bob Meister, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in the conference call that the data collection among MOOC companies is also of concern to university faculty. Because the database is owned by a private company, it can be sold to other private entities or individuals, such as students and employers, who are willing to pay a fee, he says.

"The real model of higher education online is simply to attract the largest number of users while it is free so it can create a global database that can be cross-licensed to all of the other big global databases out there," said Bob Meister, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "This is all in return for possibly providing the student with a completion certificate for the course. It seems too good to be true, because it is."

[OPINION: Why Big Data, Not MOOCs, Will Revolutionize Education]

Moving forward, the group says there needs to be greater transparency in the business arrangements between private companies and colleges and universities, as the growth of the educational technology industry has been largely unregulated thus far.

"Too many colleges and universities are rushing into agreements in these ventures with no clear business plan, no clear sense of the balance between investment and possible returns, and with no serious or shared deliberative process," said Gary Rhoades, a professor at the University of Arizona. "They are essentially taking blind leaps of faith with other people's monies. And in many cases, that's students' monies and taxpayers' monies."

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