The Tufts University campus was a quiet place in the fall, where students were scolded to stay in their dorms, checked frequently for Covid-19 and — if they tested positive — quarantined in modular housing set up on the tennis courts.

As with much in higher education this academic year, the real activity was online, where the university was busy launching a new virtual master’s degree in data science and an online program in computer science for people who already have bachelor’s degrees.

Aimed at consumers needing to find new jobs or preparing for graduate school, the offerings seemed well timed to attract students.

What students won’t see in the promotional materials or when they register, however, is that the programs are being managed by a private, for-profit company called Noodle that is being paid $12,000 to $22,000 per month, per program, plus $88 per credit hour, per student, according to a list of fees disclosed by Noodle.

Public and nonprofit colleges and universities have long outsourced such things as bookstores and dining and custodial services. Now they’re paying tens of billions of dollars a year to for-profit corporations to create and operate online courses, recruit and enroll students, advise and tutor those students once they start school, oversee research, manage information technology and utilities and build or manage dorms, classrooms, labs, parking and student unions that were previously all handled in house.

Outsourcing has speeded up during the pandemic. Some 300 new deals are believed to have been reached between universities and for-profit online program managers, a 79 percent increase over last year.
Some of these functions are outside the institutions’ educational missions, advocates of such partnerships point out, though what’s new is that “more and more are cutting closer to the academic core,” said Dennis Gephardt, vice president and senior credit officer on the higher education and not-for-profit team at the Moody’s bond-rating agency.

Read the full article about outsourcing during the pandemic by Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report.