It pays to operate an ethical business. Though some for-profit universities have suffered reduced stock prices as a result of the Department of Education’s proposed “gainful employment” legislation, which would require online universities to prove that their graduates can successfully land jobs upon graduation, others have garnered more attention and have won more clients because of their already ethical business practices.
American Public University (APUS) is one such university. A recent article in Forbes deems American Public University System a company to watch. “The company has a compelling growth model, a clean balance sheet and upright business ethics,” the article reports. The company was founded in 1991 “by a former Marine Corps officer and instructor, James Etter, and SEC filing show that the company has operated with integrity that befits a former Marine.”
APUS originally focused on providing education to veterans and the military. Its model was perfectly suited to these clients, who had irregular schedules and limited financial resources.
Today APUS provides online learning to more than 77,000 working adults worldwide. As of last month, enrollment at APUS has increased 31 percent over last year.
The Forbes article goes on to reveal that APUS does not use high-pressure recruitment tactics, nor does the school load its students with excessive debt. “[A]verage debt load for APUS students after four years is $7,000 -- about half of one year’s tuition at an average public university.” This cost includes books and materials.
Some online universities are adopting APUS’s ethical approach to distance learning. Kaplan University, for example, announced that it will allow students to take classes for four or five weeks before asking them to commit financially to their course of study. If students fail courses or change their minds about pursuing college degrees, they can walk away from the course without suffering financial repercussions. Such policies have the effect of wresting power from administrators and placing it back in the hands of students.
American Public University is paving the way toward ethical action in other areas as well. Marketwatch reports that the company “held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new, energy-efficient academic center in the heart of Charles Town, West Virginia. Dr. Wallace E. Boston, President and CEO of APUS, commented on the event: “By empowering our students to identify new opportunities, analyze risk, and seek innovative approaches to problems, we are helping prepare them for leadership in a rapidly changing world.” Indeed, the new eco-friendly academic center seems designed to empower students. According to the Marketwatch article, the 45,000-square foot, four-story brick facility boasts numerous unique features:
Meeting and office space for more than 140 APUS faculty, academic staff and student advisors; a library with one of the nation’s major collections for research in military studies and military history; and energy-efficient design featuring advanced thermal insulation of windows and walls, variable lighting and cooling to manage energy use, and solar panels to provide a portion of energy requirements.
With legislation on the horizon intended to hold for-profit universities more accountable to students, more such universities should look to APUS as an example of positive growth and student-centered business practices. Behind APUS’s standard, for-profit higher education stand poised to march toward a brighter future.