Grand Canyon University

The CEO of Grand Canyon Education defended the use of tuition-sharing agreements between the for-profit company and non-profit colleges, arguing they benefit students and institutions.

Grand Canyon partners with over 100 colleges and universities, mostly non-profits, to provide services like online program management, marketing, and enrollment management. The company receives a share of tuition revenue from the schools in exchange for these services.

Critics argue these agreements undermine non-profits’ missions by incentivizing enrollment over education quality and that they lack transparency. However, Grand Canyon CEO Brian Mueller said the partnerships improve access, reduce costs, and provide resources that individual schools lack.

“At their core, these relationships are designed to strengthen and support our college partners’ ability to fulfill their academic missions in a more impactful and affordable manner,” Mueller told investors this week. “They generate value for students by making high-quality, relevant academic programs more accessible and affordable.”

Mueller acknowledged lack of transparency is a “fair critique” and said the company is working to improve disclosures and ensure clear understanding of how funds are used. However, he defended the fundamental model, saying the alternative is for colleges to develop these capabilities internally at a much higher cost.

Grand Canyon’s tuition-share agreements are controversial, with some analysts considering them predatory. But Mueller argued they expand opportunities, reduce costs, and align interests between companies and colleges. The partnerships also generate revenue to support investment in technology, knowledge, and resources that benefit students, he said.

While critics raise valid concerns, Mueller’s arguments highlight perspectives on the other side. As with many complex policy issues, there are reasonable debates around the appropriate balance of private interests and public good. But increased transparency and a laser focus on student outcomes could help address worries and shape a model that optimizes benefits for all.

Lawmakers and regulators, too, face difficult decisions in determining fair yet innovative rules of the road. If enacted thoughtfully, protection could be provided without stifling promising new approaches with the potential to transform access, affordability, and quality in higher education. The future of partnerships between for-profits and non-profits remains uncertain but critically important for progress. With open dialogue and compromise on all sides, viable and beneficial models can emerge.

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