New Online Institutions Come From Unique Sources
January 19, 2010
by Agnes Jasinski
The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the voluntary federation that represents the country's union movement, announced last week that it would be teaming up with the Princeton Review, the Princeton Review's subsidiary Penn Foster, and the National Labor College to offer an online institution to the organization's 1.5 million members and family of members. The college, to be named the College for Working Families, would aim to offer an affordable alternative to union members and their families and expand those new students' skill sets.
The news is unique in that it expands the first and only college dedicated solely to educating union members, offering rates per credit hour that will be competitive with the local community colleges. Penn Foster has some experience in the field, having provided mail correspondence safety courses to coal miners in 1890, and currently providing online courses to more than 220,000 students across the country.
Elsewhere, The New York Times announced earlier this month that it would begin offering online education certificates with the help of four colleges. The certificates would be given in emerging media journalism. Ball State University, for example, will offer a six-week course in video storytelling through its College of Communications, Information, and Media. Professors from those colleges will be teaching the courses, while the newspaper company will offer its staff for guest speaker engagements and will provide support in advertising the programs and coming up with the tools and technologies professors may need to teach the courses.
There hasn't been much negative press regarding the New York Times' announcement (perhaps because as the press, they're not viewed as a for-profit entity), but the National Labor College deal has stirred up some controversy. An article in Inside Higher Ed yesterday suggested that the for-profit nature of the partnership would move academics below turning a profit. The article also describes concerns about the alliance between the labor movement and higher education in general. Advocates for the partnership said that the link with the for-profit entities was needed as "support" in the marketing aspects of higher education, and that the new college would offer degrees not before offered at the National Labor College, such as business, health care and criminal justice.