Apparently the latest fad of “disruptive innovation” in college education is non-academic groups partnering with colleges to offer pseudo-academic programs the colleges don’t have the resources, or inclination, to offer on their own.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed:

Conde Nast publications [including Architectural Digest. Wired. Gourmet] will team up with universities to create a set of accredited certificate programs and eventually master’s-degree programs (with the colleges and universities, not the magazines, as the “institution.”) Condé Nast writers and editors will contribute subject matter expertise and the publisher will provide some financial backing to the partnerships.

The institutions and new academic programs (which will include both interactive online content and in-person elements) have not yet been identified, but discussions with universities are under way with the goal of launching the first programs in fall 2015. The aforementioned magazines are likely to be involved in the first programs to get off the ground, but other Condé Nast publications (which include The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Allure and Golf Digest) could also participate.

It’s apparently going to be run through University Ventures, a company that “since 2012 has sought to drive innovation in traditional higher education not by ‘disrupting’ it from the outside but by encouraging it from within.”

Whatever that means.

The company has apparently yet to decide what colleges to use for these projects, but some of this seems a little fishy.

I wasn’t really aware that success in the publishing industry was something that could be taught through college courses. Actually it probably can’t. But wow, I bet an academic program that suggests student might be able to take classes to figure out thrive at Conde Nast can work really well, can’t it? I bet it can make a whole lot of money. You know, students can think of it as an “investment their futures” or something.

“The Conde Nast project was an intriguing… partnership,” according to one of the individuals involved, “because of the opportunity to ‘bring incredibly strong consumer brands into education and connect them with strong university brands to build consumer experiences commensurate with the quality of those brands.’”

The problem with this is that these publications, while very good magazines and a great “consumer experience,” are not actually academic subject matters. Allure? They’re commercial products, not master’s degrees.

If we’re really pretending that Conde Nast can help people get jobs in publishing, maybe just offer real college students some good paid internships. (Conde Nast eliminated its internship program last year after former interns sued the company, alleging that the publisher violated federal and state labor laws.) Or, better yet, take all that money you’re planning to invest in that “partnership” and use to offer graduates of existing universities real jobs.

As one commentator wrote of the Inside Higher Ed piece, “the final stage of capitalism is self-parody.” Both the publishing industry and academia have business models that don’t entirely make sense anymore. Maybe if they combine… and join forces they can merge their impractical offerings it something that, somehow, makes someone money.

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