Sunday, March 05, 2017

 

I Honestly Don’t Get This


“Help me understand…” is often a disingenuous way of saying that you think something is stupid.  (It performs a similar function to “bless his heart…” in that it makes snark acceptable.) In this case, though, I’m not being disingenuous.  I’m honestly perplexed.  Any light that anyone could shed would be appreciated.

The Dream Center Foundation is a nonprofit arm of the Dream Center, which IHE describes as “a Christian missionary organization sometimes described as Pentecostal.”  It’s taking over a failing for-profit chain of colleges that includes Argosy and the Art Institutes.  It says it plans to run the schools as secular nonprofits.

(fingers tapping on table)

I don’t get it.

If it planned to run them as religious colleges, I would get that.  It would be consistent with the mission of the foundation.

If it planned to run them as for-profits, I would get that.  It would be a garden variety buyout.

If it planned to shut them down and use the buildings for other purposes, I would get that.  It would be a real estate transaction.

But a Christian foundation running them as secular nonprofits?  

I’m confused.  I’m not seeing what’s in it for the foundation.  

As a straight-up charitable endeavor, it doesn’t make sense.  If you want to do charity, do charity.  If you want to support nonprofit higher education, there are plenty of community colleges out there to donate to.  If that’s not transformative enough, you could give to, say, the CCRC.  If you want to get super-nerdy -- and I mean that as a compliment -- you could bankroll the production of OER  and/or an open-source ERP that actually makes sense for public colleges.  That could pay off for millions of students annually, far more than the EDMC schools could ever reach.

The foundation says it will “invest a percentage of revenue generated from the EDMC institutions into charitable endeavors,” which raises more questions than it answers.  To me, that just sounds like running them as profit centers.  That’s possible, I guess, but EDMC’s recent track record suggests reasons for skepticism.  Turning around institutions with that much baggage would be much harder than simply starting their own.  Yes, I know that many investors believe that for-profits will have an easier time under the Trump administration than they did under the Obama one, but baggage is baggage.  

It could be a version of money laundering, I guess, but that would imply things about the foundation that I lack the information to imply.  I’ll file that one under “if all other explanations fail.”

I suppose it could be a case of managers buying themselves jobs, but it seems like an awfully roundabout and expensive way to do it.  And fund managers aren’t exactly starving.

(fingers tapping on table)

Maybe it’s some sort of solidarity among confederates?  It’s not a stretch to imagine a Pentecostal foundation and for-profit higher educators being on the same political side.  Is it a way for people on the same side of a culture war to help each other out?  Maybe someone powerful prevailed upon someone else powerful to bail out some allies?  Maybe the Department of Education didn’t want to extend loan forgiveness if the schools closed, so it needed someone to put the schools on life support long enough to keep the loans going?  And by switching to nonprofit status, they’re able to avoid the scrutiny that would raise questions?

Maybe.  I’m really having a hard time with this.

Wise and worldly readers, is there a narrative relying on normal human behavior by which this makes sense?  I honestly don’t get it.



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