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The false narrative around for-profit companies must end

AAs co-founder and CEO of 2U, a public education technology company working to expand access to education, I feel a daily responsibility to champion our business model and the work of our thousands of employees. The reason? An endless barrage of arrows from a small segment of the population choosing to assume that we are bad actors because of our tax status.

Building and running a sustainable, mission-driven business is difficult, and fair criticism is part of any meaningful dialogue. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

The extreme vitriol directed at higher education corporations trying to build successful businesses by supporting nonprofit colleges is unfair and unproductive. A profit motive does not in itself mean that there cannot be other equally important motives.

Most days bring a new accusation or biased attack from someone or an organization trying to tear down 2U or vilify the wider ed-tech industry because of our business models. Most of the time, these attacks contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information and omit important details. Critics rarely mention program quality, graduation rates, or student outcomes, for example. And they almost never describe the complex societal needs we are working to address: to make higher education more accessible and workforce development more efficient, effective and inclusive.

Last week provided another example of this kind of unproductive, agenda-driven resentment. In “It’s time to put an end to the fancy sales tactics of higher education”, a the Chronicle edited by a higher education policy analyst, you’ll find plenty of rhetoric ridiculing public-private partnerships and portraying online program managers as “shoddy for-profit operations.” What won’t you find? A single point of data on what matters: program quality or student outcomes.

A few facts to help set the record straight:

  1. Public-private partnerships in higher education have created some of the highest quality online programs available today, many of which are ranked among the best by US News and World Report. Partnerships have enabled nonprofit colleges and universities to reach new, non-traditional students and create a more diverse and better-educated workforce. Indeed, in fall 2019, more than two-thirds of all distance education students were enrolled in public institutions.
  2. Online programs supported by partners such as 2U and others deliver strong retention, graduation, and achievement rates. Gallup found that 97% of alumni of 2U-supported online graduate programs had positive career outcomes, and the average tech boot camp grad earned $11,000 in salary within the year. following graduation.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, lower prices are better for our business: we actively encourage our university partners to reduce tuition fees. Our partners set tuition fees for their programs at their sole discretion, and there is no evidence that 2U’s revenue-sharing agreements increase costs.

I recognize that higher education is an industry that continues to face a complex array of systemic challenges. But I have a question for our critics and anyone who wonders about the motives of for-profit corporations in higher education: do you have comprehensive data on student outcomes to back up your criticism?

Any business – non-profit or for-profit – that directly affects people and communities must be held to high standards. And I appreciate and agree with the calls for increased transparency, affordability and standards in higher education. Our company, 2U, has strived to lead the industry over the past decade through things like our transparency reports, Gallup research, and accessible pricing.

And yet, the communication of results is an issue that transcends digital partnerships.

Today, it is almost impossible to compare the results of online graduates and on-campus graduates, let alone compare OPM-powered courses with the rest of the online program landscape. Data is either non-existent or inconsistent across institutions. If you don’t believe me, believe Robert Kelchen.

And without clear, publicly available data on student outcomes in all higher education programs, it is extremely difficult for advocates to make sound, intelligent, or even rational policy recommendations that best serve students.

It’s much easier to create a bogeyman for profit. But I’m tired of being a convenient target for so-called student rights advocates more concerned with quick political wins than productive data-driven analysis.

The decisions, innovations and investments we make at 2U are not just about advancing our business, but also about advancing our mission and serving our partners. We wake up every morning serving the more than 45 million learners who come to our platform in search of life-changing learning opportunities.

Although this is not how our mission is portrayed in the false narrative that has been recklessly perpetuated for years, I am incredibly proud of what we continue to build, the people I can do it with, and the impact we have on the world. And we have the stats to prove it.

So let’s talk about data. Let’s talk about the facts. And then let’s work together to ensure that higher education provides the kind of accessible, high-quality education that best serves students.

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