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The False Narrative Around For-Profit Companies Needs to End

The False Narrative Around For-Profit Companies Needs to End

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Chip Paucek
August 19, 2022
As the co-founder and chief executive of 2U, a public education-technology company that is working to expand access to education, I feel a daily responsibility to defend our business model and the work our thousands of employees do. The reason? A never-ending barrage of arrows coming our way from a small segment of the population choosing to presume that we are bad actors because of our tax status.
Building and running a sustainable, mission-driven business is hard, and fair criticism is part of any true dialogue. That’s not what I am talking about here.
The extreme vitriol directed at companies in higher education attempting to build successful businesses by supporting nonprofit colleges is unfair and unproductive. A profit motive does not inherently mean there can’t be other, equally important motives.
Most days bring a new accusation or a biased attack from someone or some organization trying to tear down 2U or vilify the broader ed-tech sector because of our business models. Most of the time those attacks contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information and omit significant details. Critics rarely mention program quality, graduation rates, or student outcomes, for instance. And they almost never describe the complex societal needs we’re working to solve: making higher education more attainable and work-force development more efficient, effective, and inclusive.
Last week provided yet another example of just this sort of unproductive, agenda-driven rancor. In “It’s Time to End Higher Ed’s Gimmicky Sales Tactics,” a Chronicle op-ed by a higher-education policy analyst, you’ll find a lot of rhetoric deriding public-private partnerships and tarring online program managers as “shoddy for-profit operations.” What you won’t find? A single data point on what matters: program quality or student outcomes.

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