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Academic Libraries in For-Profit Schools of Higher Ed March 1, 2012

Posted by Christopher Lemery in Uncategorized.
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“Academic Libraries in For-Profit Schools of Higher Education” by Davis, Adams, & Hardesty from College & Research Libraries v.72 No.6, November 2011.

I really liked this article and learned a lot from it. I’ve been reading a bit lately about for-profit colleges since they’ve been in the news so much and I’m sure I’ve stumbled across other articles about them here and there. I generally have a pretty dim view of for-profits because of their very nature as profit-seeking institutions, meaning they’re organized and run very differently than traditional colleges. They’re also very expensive and their attendees default on their Pell grant loans in much higher proportions than traditional colleges do. I think it’s pretty shady that they try to “buy” accreditation by buying up a small, previously accredited college. I’ve read several articles about their shady student recruiting practices, too.

The authors also note that most for-profit administrators didn’t hold an advanced degree and a few didn’t even have an undergrad degree. I found this last fact incredible. There arguments about the tenure system and traditional colleges (and their libraries) have their own host of problems, but I can’t imagine running any kind of higher-ed institution without having at least some experience in academia. In sum, for-profits are obviously filling a need, but they need to be better regulated and scrutinized than they are now.

For-profit colleges’ library services are, in a word, awful. The authors report that the for-profit colleges’ libraries are small and poorly resourced and it sounds like they’re often afterthoughts in these institutions. That’s not surprising, seeing as how so many for-profits are online-only affairs and most do not even own their own buildings and don’t have campuses, per se. The article also notes that they don’t have full-time, professional librarians, which is a little surprising. Even with the limited libraries they have, it’s still a ton of work to put one together and run one, particularly in an academic setting. The authors clearly believe that this ultimately hurts the students, as the lack of a library “pro” leads to lack of standard services across institutions, hurts reference quality, and meant that “information literacy” was a foreign term.

It’s clear that for-profits will likely grow in size and reach for the foreseeable future, but there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.

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