Humanitarians or businesspeople? It’s hard to have a pragmatic view on the legitimacy of online educators, when institutions in this category are accused of, “[preying] on the vulnerabilities of the down and desperate.” The optimistic argument is that the creators of Kaplan University, and the University of Phoenix, are trying to give an education to people who wouldn’t ordinarily get a degree.
The history of for-profit educational ventures has not been pretty. Online colleges like the University of Phoenix have come under state and federal investigation for potentially exploitative and fraudulent practices. Kaplan University has had to defend itself against claims that it preys on the vulnerabilities of the down and desperate; its own training manual advised recruiters to use prospective students’ “pain and fears” to get them to enroll. And who can forget Chris Whittle and his ill-fated Edison Schools, as well as the commercial-filled classroom broadcasts provided by Whittle’s Channel One News?
There’s ample reason, then, to cast a jaded eye on the new generation of edupreneurs — young, tech-savvy innovators who have begun producing products for America’s enormous education market. But a closer look reveals that many of these business owners pair a desire to prosper financially with a genuine sense…
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