Several Texas colleges are using private recruiters for online classes

Quality vs. profit

UT-Austin officials are interested in learning more about these companies but believe a nonprofit model better suits their needs, said Gretchen Ritter, a vice provost who oversees efforts to improve the campus’ online learning.

“Questions have been raised about partnering with for-profit partners regarding the impact that the for-profit model has on educational quality and outcomes (in terms of overly aggressive marketing, lower completion rates, etc.) that I think should make us cautious,” Ritter wrote in an eMail.

UTA officials say they haven’t encountered those problems, noting their online nursing students perform just as well as those on campus.

Whether universities work with for-profit companies or not, some observers say online education and other new approaches will only gain traction, and colleges must adapt.

Sandefer said, “You have to be a Luddite to cling to the idea that outdated lectures, delivered to hundreds of bored students in impersonal lecture halls, results in much useful learning in the 21st century.”

Key players

As Texas explores ways to make state universities more efficient and accessible, one consistent theme that has emerged is online education, including a new model in by which universities team up with private companies. Here are some of the people involved and a timeline of the efforts:

Randy Best: Dallas entrepreneur and founder of Academic Partnerships (formerly Higher Ed Holdings), a company that helps state universities build online enrollments in specific fields, such as business, education and nursing. He also launched a global chain of for-profit universities.

Wallace Hall: Dallas businessman appointed to the UT System Board of Regents in February. He heads a regents’ task force on blended and online learning.

John Katzman: Founder and CEO of 2tor, a company that helps public and private universities deliver online classes around the world. He also founded The Princeton Review, a college admissions test preparation company.

Gene Powell: Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents.

Jeff Sandefer: Austin oilman, founder of a nonprofit business school and Perry donor who proposed controversial “breakthrough solutions” to make universities more productive and affordable. The ideas include awarding teacher bonuses based on student ratings and giving students vouchers to attend public or private colleges.

Richard Vedder: Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington think tank, and a senior fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. He argues American universities have become less productive and strayed from their teaching mission, and believes for-profit and online education can help bring needed change.

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