Two interesting articles were recently posted about for-profit higher education in the US. The first, from the Chronicle, discussed the rise of thirteen publicly traded higher education businesses that have experienced fast growth in enrollments in the past ten to twenty years. The article discussed the benefits for-profit education from a student's point of view: students can apply and enroll immediately, classes are rarely or never full, class times are offered when it is most convenient for students (including Saturdays, evenings, or online), and there is often a direct path to employment. Indeed, for-profit education specializes in programs that meet job demands, and students graduate from two-year programs at for-profit institutions at a greater rate than community colleges (60% vs. 26%).
While the Chronicle article implied the reason for the growth was student demand, Dean Dad at Confessions of a Community College Dean, analyzed the reasons a bit further. He writes that for-profit institutions "emerged to fill gaps in the nonprofit system. Their growth is a direct and predictable reflection of the existing system's failures." He draws connections to the hordes of would-be faculty graduating from research institutions with Ph.D.s and few job prospects to recent budget cuts that limit enrollments and cut popular programs, while raising tuition at many public institutions.
Higher education is facing enormous challenges in the coming years. The fault-lines of for-profit/nonprofit, online/on-campus, convenience/quality, are shifting. I don't think they are as dichotomous as we might think.
Be sure to read the comments at Confessions... They are well worth your time.