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OC Leader Board: Can For-Profit Universities Be Started Nowadays?

Editor’s Note: Glenn Roquemore, who was president of Irvine Valley College for 18 years before serving as chancellor and president at Costa Mesa-based California Southern University for two years, wrote this article for the Business Journal.

Some for-profit universities have experienced significant ethical and financial issues that led to their disbanding or buyout by other institutions in recent years.

Past scandals and the reputation of being nothing more than low-quality “degree mills” have placed a jaundiced eye on for-profit schools. These bad actors were relatively few but damaged the overall reputation of the industry.

The current administration is methodically proposing more restrictions on for-profit universities and rolling back some of the policies put in place by the prior administration, such as restricting access to federal financial aid, including the famous Pell Grants.

It is challenging to get beyond the cloud of partisan public versus private education arm wrestling to see which side of the aisle makes the best points to consider.

Some argue that policy changes like the Gainful Employment provision, still on the table, could hurt well-recognized, high-quality for-profit universities.

The pathway to starting a new for-profit university is an increasingly complex, but not impossible, process under the current administration.

Within the current reality, would starting a private for-profit university have a chance of success today?

I would say yes.

Why?

I base my opinion on serving as president and chancellor of California Southern University, a private for-profit university. Before taking this appointment, I served for 30 years in a public higher education system, including 18 years as president of Irvine Valley College.

What was mostly a curiosity for me, moving to the private sector, was wrought with unknowns and some concerns. What I experienced starkly contrasted with the somewhat negative reputation.

The Keys

Starting a small private for-profit online university can run between $300,000 and $500,000, according to QT Business Solutions. The rate of increasing enrollments will determine the return on investment.

Perhaps the biggest key is providing the most current and in-demand programs. A for-profit school can pivot much more quickly to a hot area such as ChatGPT than a public university that has a tenured faculty to protect its interests.

Other keys to success are accreditation, flexibility and access.

Fortunately, the National Accreditation Commission has recognized the need to include for-profit institutions in their accreditation process. Such accreditation allows for access to federal financial aid and the transfer of courses to other institutions.

Employers and students considering for-profit degrees or certificates should ensure that the institution is nationally and programmatically accredited.

Also, accreditation ensures that specific standards of quality, fiscal stability and a means for regular improvement are met.

In addition, private institutions can apply for specific program-based accreditation such as nursing, psychology, business and online learning.

Suppose a private for-profit university achieves national and program-based accreditation.

In that case, they are certified to operate at the same high standards and quality as public universities.

I had the pleasure of working on the successful six-year reaffirmation process when I was president of California Southern University. Indeed, the quality of programs, curriculum, and student outcomes were all well demonstrated.

The Advantages

Private universities have advantages that can greatly benefit students, especially adults working in a specific career field that wish to seek a higher degree.

A police officer with a bachelor’s degree generally makes between $62,000 and $64,000 annually. According to the University of San Diego, a police officer in 20 months can earn a master’s degree in criminal justice, costing about $21,000 in tuition.

The annual salary with a master’s degree ranges between $78,000 and $103,000 depending on the position. The time to pay off the tuition could be less than 18 months.

A nurse may want to earn a Bachelor’s in Science (BSN) or a Master’s in Science (MSN) to become a nurse practitioner.

For-profit universities offer flexible schedules by starting courses regularly, not on a semester or quarter schedule as most universities do.

This schedule allows the working adult to fit their coursework into their professional work schedule. In addition, registration and admittance occur regularly as well. There is no need to wait for a traditional application calendar that public institutions have.

Online Schools

In addition to the private for-profit schools, other online schools such as Udemy, Kajabi (see story, page 3) or Coursera offer courses for free without a certificate or paid courses that can lead to earning a certificate.

Anyone wishing to brush up or seek additional knowledge or skills would find these courses attractive.

The course offerings often align with current business and industry skill requirements for employment or advancement.

These courses are not nationally accredited and do not lead to traditional accredited degrees or certificates. Nonetheless, there is an increase in businesses that look for evidence of skills or a relevant portfolio of experience over a formal degree.

Today, especially after the COVID-19 years, students from community college to the university level desire flexibility and ease of access.

Some colleges are finding it challenging to get students back to campus after experiencing the online learning modality and the room it provided in their lives to learn and take care of family or personal obligations.

For profit universities can provide the business professional with a pathway to upward mobility that allows for full-time work and other life commitments.

Several high-quality for-profit universities are available today. Given the proper accreditation, for-profit universities have a position in the lineup of education.

Entrepreneurs who have ideas on how to improve education do have a path open to them.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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