March 14, 2018; Inside Higher Ed
Last week, yet another for-profit institution, Bridgepoint Education, announced it would merge its two existing entities, University of the Rockies and Ashford University, into one big happy nonprofit. While there are still numerous legal and regulatory hoops with this planned merger, it is yet another example in a long list of sometimes-concerning for-profit to non-profit conversions.
While many decisions have yet to be made about the transaction, the company said Tuesday that it expects “Bridgepoint will be compensated for relinquishing its ownership rights to the new nonprofit Ashford as well as receiving compensation for negotiated services that Bridgepoint will provide under a new services agreement.”
In the area of higher education specifically, critics have often been skeptical of the real motives behind such moves:
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The structures of for-profit conversions have been controversial. The Century Foundation, for example, has criticized some of those moves as being attempts by for-profit owners to escape federal regulations, which tend to be tighter on for-profits, while still reaping personal benefits from owning the colleges.
Indeed, a recent Chronicle of Higher Education post outlines seven high-profile cases of sector-jumping at various stages of flux. Just claiming a nonprofit banner, however, is not likely to automatically result in quality services, or a deregulated environment.
Over the years, Nonprofit Quarterly has drawn attention to the discrepancies in quality of care in industries where for-profits and nonprofits coexist. In addition to the field of higher education, our writers have explored conditions in nursing homes, child care centers, and fitness centers. We’ve even done entire print issues of NPQ dedicated to the often-hyped hybrid organization and even broader, featured articles on blurring the lines altogether.
Will for-profit colleges and universities continue to seek alternative statuses as they struggle against “years of aggressive government oversight, financial problems, and scathing press coverage?” It seems a trend still in full swing, and a topic that could indeed fill a whole college course curriculum!—Jeannie Fox