By Richard Vedder
I give talks to alumni groups and other organizations about eight great men I have met in my lifetime. Some are famous politicians (Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Vladimir Putin), others financial gurus (George Soros, Michael Milkin), and the rest business leaders and entrepreneurs. In the latter group I include Randy Best, who is beginning to shake up higher education like I thought he would. He is a remarkable man, an entrepreneur's entrepreneur, a person who has overcome adversity (he essentially cannot read because of a disability) to amass (and lose in some cases) many fortunes.
Randy is going to colleges and offering them a deal. “Let me (Higher Education Holdings, or HEH, his closely held company) run an aggressive, high quality on-line operation for you, and I will get you enrollments and give you a cut of the tuition revenue. You will get to keep state subsidies you generate from higher enrollment. You control curriculum and even the faculty, but we will use academic coaches to get students to do the work and succeed." Several have accepted, originally Lamar University, but more recently Arkansas State and my own university (Ohio University).
Randy has told me that accreditation barriers are perhaps the single most important impediment to offering quality on-line education nationally. I wonder now whether his mind has changed. The faculty at Toledo raised such a fuss that the administration backed down on an arrangement with HEH. Similar opposition has appeared elsewhere. The faculty say "we control curriculum." End of story.
This gets to the question: who owns (and governs) the university? The Trustees? The President? The faculty? The students? The alums? The taxpayers? All think they do, to a greater or lesser extent. These issues of ownership, never present in for profit capitalistic enterprise, are a major problem for those interested in innovation, reform, affordability, and positive change in American higher education.