In Education It’s the Free Market’s Turn

It’s been a rough year for entrepreneurs in education. Those institutions which have attempted to introduce, or have been created to introduce, innovative and creative solutions to age old education dilemmas have seen better days. Interest in the latest and greatest technological innovation seems to be waning a bit, as has the frenzy to enroll in an online course or school. Controversy surrounds the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of some of the methods that are being employed. In many cases you find yourself wondering if the innovative geniuses who brought us the Segway have found themselves a field to experiment with.

What really seems to be igniting the passions of those who have a dog in the fight is that these colleges, universities, charter schools, and education start-ups are attempting to make a profit by teaching our children. You don’t have to be John D. Rockefeller to know that building a business model that results in a positive bottom line is typically a pretty good idea. Generating revenue is an essential element to a successful business, whether that business is a high school, university, or start-up operating out of your basement. A successful business employs workers, workers support the economy, and the economy is made up marketplaces that determine if the business will continue to be successful. Without profit as a motive, businesses (or schools) have no inclination to innovate, create, or produce. Without profit as a motive, we have…the public school system, the postal service, and universal healthcare.

Granted, these principles do not exist on either end of the spectrum. Publically funded universities or school districts don’t worry about business models and profits and the marketplace. The marketplace has been monopolized for them. Elite private institutions with a large endowment are generating profit without worrying about business models or the marketplace. Billion dollar endowments go a long way towards removing the pressures of the free market.

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Any dramatic shift occurs when enough pressure is applied to demand change. Financial, societal, and practical pressure have finally ended the ill-fated dream that everyone in the country should own their house. Owning a house is one option when building a home…so is renting, leasing, or camping in your parent’s basement (although I wouldn’t recommend doing this for too long). Similarly, college is not the only option for every student in a public high school to generate a meaningful income. Neither is a publically funded high school education the only option for parents looking to train their students to self-sustaining, contributing members of society. There are a plethora of more efficient, less expensive — and frankly — more effective ways to prepare students for the aggressive and competitive workplace that they are about to enter.

Pressure has been applied, purposefully or not, to the educational paradigm. Reduced budgets, an increasingly competitive global marketplace, and opportunistic politicians looking for a scapegoat for their failed policies and initiatives all have demanded change…as long as that change included more testing and more bureaucrats dictating instructional policies, not greedy for profit charter schools or educational entrepreneurs.

education=futureAdmittedly, many of the allegedly greedy, poor quality, for-profit institutions are in fact greedy and/or of very poor quality. Their incentive to make a profit can be realized, at least in the short term, by providing an educational product without actually educating students. The same long-term criteria exists to evaluate the effectiveness of for-profit and public institutions alike. All students need to be properly equipped with skills and trained to use technologies to compete for jobs. All students need support to be placed in the next level of their educational endeavors or networked within their future field to find a job. These are goals for institutions that take time to evaluate, and undoubtedly it is difficult to evaluate the quality of some products without the benefit of time…products like cars, and houses, and, in this case, schools.

There should be no debate; the time for a dramatic change in the educational landscape is here. Skills based, innovative, data-driven schools, whether they be public or private, are at the right place in the right time…if a school makes a profit while educating the next generation, more power to them.

If we’re going to hold for-profit charters, colleges, and education start-ups accountable for genuine instructional worth and actually-employable graduates, then the same bar should exist for every public high school and university in the country. Only 10% of the college marketplace is made up by for profit schools; the percentage of private high schools is even less. Why skewer the 10% for sins largely committed — grossly committed — by the 90%? We can all agree that, as a group, the current batch of public high schools and universities are doing a relatively horrific job equipping our students for the next 50 years of viable employment. Why not give the free market a broad opportunity to succeed where government directed education is failing?


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

John Floresta

John Floresta (@JohnFloresta) is a contributor to Eagle Rising and has his doctorate in teaching and designing online education.

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