In a number of ways, educational for-profit corporations lead the way in learning innovation. Just as it acts as the major force in all other areas of globalization, information and communication technology (ICT) has a profound impact on global educational advancement and development. This can best be seen through the emergence of digital, distance, and virtual learning that is now available at all levels of education.
The Apollo Group, a private company that owns University of Phoenix and Phoenix University Online, provides opportunities for distance learning around the globe. The University of Phoenix operates campus locations for face-to-face instruction in twenty-six states and Puerto Rico, as well as in Canada and the Netherlands. The Phoenix University Online enrolls students from forty different countries (Spring).
Clearly, the operating system for such an organization differs from that of a more traditional university. Founded by John Sperling in 1973 the stated mission of the University of Phoenix is “to provide access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, and to improve the productivity of their organizations, and provide leadership and service to their communities.” While this mission may not sound very different from most other universities, the modes of operations and priorities as a for-profit company differ substantially. This point will be discussed further ahead.
By creating access to education, Apollo helps to spawn increasing demand for education from many who perhaps previously did not think it was possible.
The Apollo Group has spent the last several years expanding its international presence. In 2007, the company announced a $1 billion joint venture with the Carlyle Group for investments in international education, including extension into emerging economies (Olds, 2007). Such a project indicates the growing awareness of financial institutions of the lucrative investment opportunities in education. But, Apollo is only one of a handful of companies seeking to gain ground in the international education sector.
Considering enrollment rates, there is a burgeoning global market for corporately controlled for-profit schools (Spring, 2009). The familiar test preparation company Kaplan Inc. is perhaps one of the newest virtual additions to the for-profit education industry. Much like the University of Phoenix and Phoenix University Online, Kaplan Inc. has now created Kaplan University and is providing students with the option of both a physical and virtual campus.
Launched in 2004, Kaplan U. now enrolls 66,000 students, most of which are online. In the 2009-2010 academic year, Kaplan U. conferred 9,729 degrees through 96 different programs (Kaplan University, 2011) (Blumenstyk, 2009). As a recent advertisement for Kaplan University emphasizes “it is time for a different university.” (Blumenstyk) Looking at global demands, it appears that cultural and demographic changes, coupled with the interest of remaining globally competitive, demand it (Blumenstyk).
While traditional universities pride themselves on building a faculty of professors with strong academic merits, for-profit virtual institutions boast accessibility, especially for those students wishing to pursue a degree on a part-time basis while working. “For-profit educators are starting to aggressively pursue that demographic, through targeted advertising and, more recently, by becoming lenders, financing education costs that their students cannot cover through government grants and loans.” (Hendry, 2009)
Enrollment evidence suggests that these strategies may be working. Enrollment for the Apollo Group increased 22 percent from 345,300 students to 420,700 from 2008 to 2009. For the same time period Kaplan higher education enrollment increased 31 percent from 78,700 to 103,300 (Hendry).
Below, Jose Ferreira the founder and CEO of Knewton, an up and coming adaptive learning company, speaks at a conference held by the Levin institute in January, 2011. Ferreira discusses the global accessibility and flexibility of education made possible by technology.