College Guide


May 03, 2011 10:00 AM Ignoring Good and Evil

By Daniel Luzer


The American Enterprise Institute has recently published a paper about for-profit colleges. The interesting document urges rationality in education discussions, though it’s not really clear that anyone was ever making irrational statements.

According to the paper by Michael Horn (of the Innosight Institute):

Much of the debate over whether for-profits or nonprofits are more or less virtuous is a red herring to what the real questions should be. For the government paying, the question should be, “Is this given company, regardless of corporate structure, delivering on what society is paying it to do, as specified in the law?”

This is an interesting rhetorical device. Is the debate here really about “whether for-profits or nonprofits are more or less virtuous”? I have yet to see anyone seriously assert anything along these lines.

In fact, it appears that the question most people are now asking of for-profit schools has to do with whether or not these schools are using federal money efficiently to educate American students and prepare them to obtain good jobs.

Those are really important questions to ask. That’s why for-profit colleges are controversial.

“For-profit companies are not inherently good or evil” says Horn in his paper. Well right, no one is worried about fundamental philosophical questions like that. Let’s just figure out what all of this federal money is paying for. That’s the important thing. [Image via]

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


  • mostel on May 03, 2011 6:19 PM:

    "Education" has become as commoditized as "news" in the past 20 years. Everyone gets what they want, and businesses no longer care because they knew the last generation spent their college years drunk, not studying. Yet "non-profits" continue to graduate kids who can't read or write critically, are ignorant of the language, and who never spent five minutes thinking critically.

  • majun on May 03, 2011 6:28 PM:

    Most of the for profit schools are owned by larger corporations. What I think the government should be looking at is, to what extent the larger parent corporation uses the educational unit for recruiting purposes, using their propietary advantage to skim off the best students. If they aren't doing that than it seems quite obvious that they see the educational unit as a cash cow, selling credentials to paying customers without regard to what extent those credentials mean anything in the real world.

  • Texas Aggie on May 04, 2011 8:14 AM:

    The best way to answer doubts concerning the relative effectiveness of nonprofit higher education vs. for profit is to look at the success of their graduates. The for profits have been an abject failure. According to one survey I read fewer than 10% of the graduates were able to find jobs. Regular universities and community colleges have a much better record, although given the current employment climate, they are doing that well either.

    As for the nonprofits graduating students who can't think critically, a recent survey showed that the ability of graduates of four year schools did much better than the average person in critically thinking exercises.