Jul 22, 2019
Mega-universities are on the rise. Institutions like Southern New Hampshire University, Western Governors University, Liberty University, Grand Canyon University and Arizona State University are aiming to reshape higher education through massive investments in technology, new approaches to teaching and credentialing, and an appetite for growth.
Their enrollments—driven by online students—are skyrocketing, even as colleges and universities on the whole see a decline. SNHU now serves 130,000 students, and WGU’s enrollment is clocking in at around 110,000 students.
If the narrative sounds familiar, it is. About 20 years ago, a handful of for-profit universities began following a similar playbook, albeit with a profit motive and, in many cases, return-hungry shareholders to answer to. At its peak in 2010, the dominant for-profit, the University of Phoenix, boasted an enrollment of more than 470,000 students, nearly four times as much as the largest of the current so-called mega-universities.
Widespread reports of poor student outcomes and stories of misleading students into enrolling shredded not just the predatory actors, but the national for-profit sector as a whole. Reputable institutions might have been better positioned had they invested in developing outcome standards that better reflected the value they aimed to offer to their students.