Outsourcing College

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The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) just released a report that, interestingly enough, looks at the idea of colleges outsourcing instruction. Some colleges now have agreements such that colleges pay companies to educate their students. According to the policy brief, by Alene Russell:

In the face of rising budgetary pressures… critical enrollment capacity issues, and escalating competition from the for-profit sector, public college and university officials are increasingly exploring a new and controversial frontier in higher education—outsourcing instruction. Though virtually unheard of a decade ago, such outsourcing is beginning to gain traction in select locations around the nation.

Colleges have been privatizing functions to save or make money for years—something like 90 percent of schools use some form of outsourcing today—but these efforts used to be concentrated in supplemental things, like bookstores, cafeterias, or the housekeeping staff. In the last five years, some colleges have found that it actually makes sense to just outsource the classes themselves to private companies.

There is, the policy brief reports, no real evidence on whether or not this particular strategy works. The arguments supporting university outsourcing are that it is more cost-effective, faster, and technologically more sophisticated than regular instruction.

Opponents of the strategy suggest that the profit motive “is incompatible with academic culture,” that the whole enterprise threatens jobs, and that it isn’t actually clear that the strategy saves any money. Another problem is that outsourcing promotes an impersonal, factory-model form of instruction. At the risk of being overly general here, outsourcing virtually anything has major drawbacks, most importantly that it’s hard to ensure quality or determine responsibility.

The whole idea that outsourcing is an idea to be taken seriously in education is a little puzzling. Teaching classes is what a college does. If a college can’t give instruction, why does it even exist? [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer