Despite much valid criticism of the for-profit education industry, American proprietary schools might have something valuable to offer higher education. According to an editorial by business columnist Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post:

The… potential of for-profit schools is their focus on teaching and learning. Unlike traditional universities, they have been aggressive in finding ways to use technology to cut costs and achieve economies of scale. They make extensive use of videotaped lectures and online interactive tests. Classes often “meet” online, as well as in classrooms, and there are teaching assistants available 24/7 to help students with homework. All of this works particularly well for introductory courses, as well as for those that are part of professional training and certification.

There is no reason that these cost-effective new ways of teaching and learning couldn’t be used effectively at traditional universities other than that they would disrupt just about everything — routines, hierarchies, to say nothing of the incomes and job security of the tenured faculty.

It’s no doubt a little more complicated than this but Pearlstein here offers one of the more succinct and effective defenses of the for-profit education industry. It’s not that for-profit education as a model really offers anything good, but it offers a model for potentially effective education. Education can be cheap and efficient and also be effective.

The next step to making this happen would seem to be improving the way that Americans understand whether or not colleges work. At this point it’s pretty hard to know objectively whether a college—any college, whether traditional or for-profit—actually does a good job educating its students or helping them get jobs.

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