Faculty Coalition Campaigns Against MOOCs, Online Ed Profit Motives

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are attracting millions of student around the world and participation rate in these free online courses is growing rapidly — but though many top-level colleges and universities are offering free courses through MOOC providers, professors have been critical of online education.

And now there’s an organized campaign launched against MOOCs by a coalition of faculty groups. Declaring a war against free online courses, the alliance said the fast expansion of this form of education is being promulgated by corporations at the expense of student education and public interest, writes Dian Schaffhauser in Campus Technology.

The coalition includes 65 faculty, student, teacher and union associations from across the United States. Their mission is to ensure that affordable quality higher education is accessible to all sectors of the society in coming decades and that the feedback and views of faculty, staff, students, and communities should be considered in the process of making change to get there.

“The question at the heart of the battle is whether higher education is worthy of public investment or better suited to be an offering of big business.”

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education has issued a report examining the motives behind much of the current push for online education, and they’ve concluded that online education is driven primarily by profit and greed.

The report, The ‘Promises’ of Online Higher Education: Profits, examines how the rhetoric used to describe new online offerings — “innovation,” “expanded access,” and “reduced costs” — should be interpreted “through the lens of corporate interest and influence.” Specifically, corporations and investors have a major interest in the adoption of education technology to deliver online classes.

The report is a “first step in looking at who is making money, how much, in what ways, and with whose assistance in online higher education,” according to the campaigners.

Only by understanding those aspects of the evolving formats of education, the report explained, will the public be able to “assess the full ‘value’ of the seemingly endless stream of technologically related innovations in higher education and make the best policy decisions for the future of higher education in our country,” according to the campaign.

The report mentioned a link between the drop in business and value for for-profit schools following a 2012 government investigation of the sector and the current surge in partnerships between public institutions and private operators.

Earlier this year, the University of Phoenix said it would enter partnerships with 100 community colleges as well as the Harvard Business School following on an announcement that the owner of the institution, Apollo Group, would be closing 115 of its own brick-and-mortar locations.

In addition, multiple public institutions have recently signed agreements with private companies for “bundled services” to convert traditional degree programs into online versions. In these deals, revenue generation for the for-profit partner is “robust,” according to the report.

The report said that a total of 200 non-profit schools in 2013 partnered with for-profit service providers, and 500 more will consider similar arrangements over the next two years, according estimates provided by Eduventures.

“The report…shines a light on how leaders in government and in our colleges and universities are being enticed by snappy slogans and slick sales pitches into making decisions that benefit investors and corporations instead of the students we’re supposed to serve,” said Lillian Taiz, a professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles and a participant in a teleconference about the report. “We’re talking here about a critical public need, higher education — one that affects individuals and societies in far reaching ways. The long-term costs and damage can be huge. And that’s what we set out to do in this work — look behind this rhetoric.”

The campaigners plan to publish two additional reports over the next two weeks. First report will examine the accuracy of promises that online courses can reduce costs for students and educational institutions. The second report will look at the facts behind the assurances that online education will dramatically expand access to higher education.