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News Editor

Online colleges given a pass

Mar 01, 20062 mins
Data Center

For-profit colleges – both the campus-based and online varieties – recently received a gold-plated seal of approval from Congress with the lifting of a mandate that at least half their courses be held live and in person for enrollees to collect federal student aid.

This is great news for college bean-counters and those students most interested in short-cuts to a degree – any degree. Not so great news for anyone interested in the state of higher education. The New York Times gets into the seamier details in a front-page story this morning.

“This is a growth industry and you get rich not by being skeptical, but by being enthusiastic,” says Henry Levin, director of Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. “People at the academic conferences will say they did a survey about Internet-based education, but there are a lot of phantom statistics and it’s all very promotional. We have not found a single rigorous study comparing online with conventional forms of instruction.”

So why would Congress so willingly toss your tax dollars at a band of dubious entrepreneurs?

“The power of the for-profits has grown tremendously,” says Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del. “They have a full-blown lobbying effort and give lots of money to campaigns. In 10 years, the power of this interest group has spiked as much as any you’ll find.”

Who needs a rigorous study – or to study rigorously – when there’s money to be made and elections to be won.

News Editor

In addition to my editing duties, I have written Buzzblog since January, 2006 and wrote the 'Net Buzz column in Network World's dearly departed print edition for 13 years. Feel free to e-mail me at