What's an Education Worth?

This story from the WSJ has been making the rounds today: 

Struggling Thunderbird Business School Finds a For-Profit Lifeline

It's worth a read for anyone interested (or in) management education. The short story is that the Thunderbird School of Management has leased its main campus to a for-profit campus operator in order to stay afloat. While the recession has hit every walk of graduate education, Thunderbird lacks an affiliated university and is thus particularly vulnerable to the downturn. And while it may be an extreme case (applications are down 75% over 15 years), it's worrying when viewed as a canary in the coal mine.

Thunderbird's solution (a twenty years lease to a for-profit campus operator) is also worth a pause. In the short term, it keeps the school running and allows for valuable (and substantial) investments in campus infrastructure. Over the long term, it's worth asking whether shifting a formerly non-profit educational institution into a for profit enterprise fundamentally harms its educational mission - a question that's particularly apropos in the context of the current discussion on higher education in America.

Personally, I believe that full time, dedicated, and in-person educational experiences offer an unparalleled value in terms of networks, skills, and expanded horizons they allow students to develop. At the same time, the options for free, online, and interactive learning platforms are improving, which means that the benefits of the "in the flesh" experience need to be quantified and communicated to students; especially once a school can no longer claim "education" to be it's only goal.