I recently found at from n+1’s article “Bad Education” that Good magazine’s education editor is sponsored by the for-profit institution University of Phoenix. A bizarre relationship - which is undoubtedly reflected in Good’s education content (and not just the fact that the education page is littered with ads from UP).
Take for example this info graphic which is sponsored by UP. It “objectively” asks which model of higher education is more sustainable. The graphic ostensibly presents plain facts but fails to point out the vast differences between non-profits and for-profits graduation rates (for example, UP averages about an eighteen percent graduation rate). Nor does the graphic take into account the fact that students at for-profit institutions leave with two-to-three times the student debt as their non-profit counterparts.
Lastly, there isn’t a single story in Good’s education system about the shady practices of for-profit universities. A cursory glance at the front page of, say, The Chronicle of Higher Education has numerous stories about the exploitative practices of for-profit universities.
Maybe I’m being overly-critical but it seems to me that Good has a serious problem which fundamentally undermines its mission as a source for “conscious consumers.”
Image via Good.
We’re big, BIG fans of GOOD, and we do appreciate their disclosure. But we’ve also reported about the hazards of for-profit colleges here and here and here and here (for starters), and this is an editorial/financial relationship that’s definitely worth asking about.
GOOD’s mission when it comes to education is primarily to cover innovative solutions and new approaches to learning. True, we haven’t delved into the issue of public vs. private vs. for-profit education, aside from the occasional infographic (more on that in a minute). But not because this debate is too controversial or totally unworthy of our attention. It’s just that, to date, GOOD has focused its efforts elsewhere.
I’m pretty new here, so GOOD’s relationship with the University of Phoenix predates me by a couple years. It is a relationship that I’m grateful for, as it’s allowed the magazine to devote a lot of space to the issue of education. GOOD’s education page does indeed feature lots of ads for the University of Phoenix. This is one of the more traditional ways that media outlets make money. And in case readers notice that a plethora of ads are from a single sponsor and wonder what’s up with that, there’s also full disclosure that our education coverage is underwritten by the University of Phoenix. We’re up front about it.
This particular infographic also predates my tenure as executive editor so I can’t speak to exactly how it was conceived, researched, and produced. But I can tell you that, had I been around then, I would have been fine with publishing it — with one important edit. The graphic is headlined “Where do colleges get their money?”, and this is indeed what the pie charts show. I’m fine with that. However, I would have taken out the question at the end of the text (“Which college funding model is best?”) because the graphic does not actually attempt to answer that question. If it did, it would certainly be appropriate to take graduation rates and other factors into account.
These issues will continue to crop up as we figure out how to pay for good journalism (which, as far as I know, isn’t a problem any media organization has definitively solved). GOOD is a for-profit company, and our overall view is that we can effect more positive change in the world by working with other companies. Does that lead to some complex questions about how we cover those companies? Yes. Inevitably. But I’ve also worked at non-profit magazines that are supported by a combination of ad sales, foundation grants, and big donations. And I can say that they’re wrestling with these issues, too.
I sincerely appreciate folks asking these questions. And I’m excited to say there are a lot of big changes underway at GOOD. So stay tuned.
-Ann Friedman, Executive Editor