Pope Center provides road map to dismantling traditional higher education

The Pope Center for Higher Education is promoting the disruption (or dismantling?) of traditional higher education by way of reduced university budgets and a takeover by for-profit education models, according to a presentation given last week by the Pope Center’s president, Jane Shaw.

In North Carolina, we’re seeing for the third year in a row the university system suffering the deepest cuts of the three branches of the state’s education system. At the same time, UNC Chapel Hill is one of many schools joining the increasingly popular MOOC movement, which is a revenue model that could ultimately cut costs by reducing the need for labor, i.e. professors. One lecture could reach tens of thousands of potentially paying customers (also known as students).

Are these actions part of a much larger campaign to dismantle traditional higher education?

Shaw’s presentation last week was given at the State Policy Network’s annual gathering. Her talk was called “Innovation in Higher Education.” Check out her presentation here.

Notable among Shaw’s remarks include “there’s a lot of fat in higher ed budgets,” and that good policies are “frustrated by leftwing faculty.”

Alternatively, Shaw asserted that “For-Profits ‘Get It.’” However, Shaw’s slide also indicated that there are some problems with the industry, namely that they produce high default rates and low graduation rates (known as ‘churn’) and they are under fire from the media and Congress.

Shaw also compared using online and for-profit education as a means to disrupt the traditional higher education model with Clayton Christensen’s description of how Sony’s 1947 pocket radio turned that industry upside down.

The pocket radio was arguably a superior product to what consumers previously had access to and paved the way for subsequent inventions like television, video players and so on.

For-profit schools by and large provide lower quality educational experiences, charge high tuition amounts and are heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer by way of the federal student aid program.

Shaw concluded her presentation by encouraging states to keep financial pressure on university budgets, bring Western Governors University branches into the state system as Texas has done, and encourage institutions to accept credits from elsewhere, like the company StraighterLine.

**This post was updated to reflect that Clayton Christensen is not associated with the University of Phoenix. We regret the error.


  1. NCCaniac42

    October 1, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    As a daughter of a retired University Professor – this is absolutely disgusting. Will these people stop at NOTHING??? They must be stopped.

  2. wncgirl

    October 1, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Having worked with two graduates of right-wing CINOs (colleges in name only) I can only pray they do not increase their influence. The graduates were clearly in denial of their own ignorance, yet they exhibited almost fanatical belief in their own superiority… oh wait I guess that describes most cons these days.

  3. david esmay

    October 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    wncgirl, those are called Dunning-Kruger degrees, and let me guess, was Liberty, Bob Jones, or Oral Roberts?

  4. Jane S. Shaw

    October 1, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Please get your facts right. Clayton Christensen teaches at Harvard Business School. He had nothing to do with the founding of the University of Phoenix. Also, you failed to mention my slide showing that, consistently, appropriations from the state of North Carolina exceed the instructional costs of the University of North Carolina. Those figures might make one wonder what tuition and private donations are paying for (some fat, perhaps?)

  5. Lindsay Wagner

    October 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Ms. Shaw,

    I regret the error with regard to Clayton Christensen and updated the post accordingly. Thank you.


  6. Cedric

    October 1, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    So state appropriations exceed instructional costs, therefore one should “starve state budgets”. That’s fairly simplistic logic. One can then contend that private online certificate mills do a lousy job in preparing and placing individuals in job-paying jobs (while these students incur significant debt in the process); therefore one should advocate closing down these profit-seeking mills.

    A closer examination of what’s truly driving the rising cost of higher education is warranted. However, to use such simplistic logic to make the leap towards starving state budgets in favor of some still yet to be proven “disruptive innovation” seems a bit shoddy and intentional.

    The disruptions that the author of the presentation notes from Christensen’s work were a result of “superior” products ultimately replacing their predecessors. Does evidence prove that MOOCs and private online certificate mills are superior products?

  7. Cedric

    October 1, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Correction: That’s “good-paying jobs”

  8. T. D. Evans

    October 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Welcome to the brave new world of education! It started with charter schools (no local control, no elected board, etc…different rules (from traditional public schools), a whole lot less regulation. Braverman (in his work on deskilling) talked about this a long time ago. The professoriate can and will be deskilled sadly without strong push back. The public is not with on this one…need to come out of the ivory tower and do more “public” information work…

  9. T. D. Evans

    October 2, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Btw, the emergence of charter schools was also accompanied by the argument that better results (educational) would follow the unleashing of the private sector forces of innovation, unfettered by the constraints placed on “public schools.” Ironically, charter school proponents claim that they are public schools, of course in the sense that they receive tax dollars and, theoretically, in most states at least, cannot cherry pick students. The movement to starve education (and higher education in particular) is simply based on a belief that, in starving the government “beast” (public education), the private sector will be able to step in and work its market miracles. Alas, the record for charter schools is quite mixed (see the work of Diane Ravitch, for example, who was a strong proponent of charter schools, but has since gone to the other side.

  10. Subsidy?

    October 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Can’t help but note the hypocrisy of the description of the private, for-profit, tax paying sector as being “heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer.” Presumably, that is compared to the public, state-subsidized, non-profit, non-tax paying sector. Only in higher ed…

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