Outsourcing of Instruction at Community Colleges

Bailey, Thomas R.; Jacobs, James; Jenkins, Paul Davis

This report presents the findings of exploratory research designed to identify the characteristics of the outsourcing of instruction at community colleges and the forces that promote or block its spread. It is the second in a series of reports by the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement and the Community College Research Center on the relationship between for-profit higher education and community colleges. The outsourcing of instruction at community colleges to independent firms is a growing but still limited practice, and thus far it has been largely confined to non-credit courses. The “contracting out” of other services, such as food services, has been a longstanding and accepted way for colleges to meet some of their ancillary needs efficiently, but outsourcing instruction is quite controversial, and many factors determine its usefulness. Respondents interviewed for this study present several basic arguments against outsourcing instruction. The first is that it is inappropriate to mix the broad public goals of colleges with the incentives inherent in profit-making companies. Second, opponents assert that outsourcing instruction could undermine the tenure-based academic employment system. Third, they argue that the quality of the education provided by contractors may be lower, since contractors might compromise the quality of their services to meet their primary goal: making a profit. A corollary concern is that the courses provided by contractors are narrower and more limited in content than other college courses, and thus unworthy of being considered equal with those taught by college faculty. And, finally, those who believe that the independence of faculty is paramount are disturbed by the fact that outsourcing may result in a lack of control by faculty over course design, instructional materials, and choice of instructors. Supporters of outsourcing also present cogent reasons for their position. They assert that outsourcing can lead to a more efficient and higher quality education, the result of market forces that reward well-managed companies that sell superior products or services. They also claim that standardized pedagogy and curriculum materials produce predictable and consistent quality. In addition—and of particular interest to community colleges, which operate under severe financial constraints—proponents cite evidence that outsourcing with a company to provide instructors is less costly for colleges than is hiring faculty, even adjuncts. Contractors can also supply instructors who have specialized and very up-to-date knowledge about course content because they are also working in the field, with the result that courses contain not only superior content but that they are tailored to meet students’ specific learning needs. Finally, through their industry contacts, contractors can help students find post-college employment.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
April 4, 2014