In a previous article, we suggested three principles universities should consider before partnering with an external for-profit company.
The principles we have suggested are:
- When the function is tangential to the main mission.
- When the necessary expertise is too sharp to create in-house.
- When it is impossible to climb an institutional learning curve on your own
While there are always exceptions to any rule, we believe these principles can be useful when colleges and universities decide to enter into nonprofit / for profit partnerships.
Despite this, we know that one of the main drivers of these partnerships, especially when it comes to developing online programs, is profit.
We believe this is a mistake.
Income is a catalyst for institutional goals and a necessary consideration, but key decisions about basic capacities should not be driven primarily by money considerations.
The pursuit of short-term profits may, in fact, mask the need for long-term investments that are necessary for institutional resilience and mission-related impact.
The emphasis on long-term mission rather than short-term income is especially important when partnership decisions involve the development and management of degree programs.
As colleges and universities look to our post-pandemic future, a reality that has become absolutely clear over the past eighteen months is the need to build institutional capacity for mediated teaching and learning. digital.
Expertise in delivering education beyond traditional face-to-face and residential modalities is now an academic necessity.
Future pandemics (or new variants of COVID-19) could again force schools to move quickly to virtual learning. Extreme weather events caused by global climate change can disrupt the functioning of residential campuses. Colleges and universities must be able to continue teaching and learning in cases where faculty and students cannot, or must not, meet on campus.
Even conceptualizing higher education as residential or distance education advances a false dichotomy, which is no longer relevant to the way we learn, teach and work. No college courses in the future will be totally Residential. All courses will incorporate digital components and virtual interactions, even courses intended to be taught in physical classrooms.
An institutional strategy that does not revolve around building core capacity for digital learning will be inherently short-sighted and ultimately doomed to failure.
Academic partnerships with for-profit companies that cannibalize internal investments in digital learning capacity will unintentionally destabilize institutional agility and resilience in the long run.
None of this is to say that colleges and universities should never work with for-profit companies. There are always exceptions.
We just think it is important to make these decisions in the context of building the basic capacity of the institution.