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OM in the News: Universities Turning to Outsourced Profs–Can it Be?

June 30, 2011

When I used to teach the topic of outsourcing (Ch.2) in my OM class, I would always joke with the students, saying ” the one job that can never be outsourced is mine”! Oh, oh. USA Today’s headline (June 29,2011), “Universities Turn to Outsourced Instructors” turns the joke around. It turns out the Missouri State University, Florida Atlantic U., Lamar U., and others are having classes taught by teachers not on the university payroll.

The article opens with this line: “This fall, when students of Missouri State take an introductory journalism class, they’ll have some of the most qualified teachers in the field”. The instructors, however, work for Poynter Institute, which supplies the university with teachers for the class via the internet. Virtually unheard of a decade ago, instructional outsourcing is sprouting on campuses nationwide. Lamar U., for example, has outsourced some online graduate programs since 2007. Enrolments in two masters degree programs in education reached 4,100 students, higher than the total of all students at the Beaumont, Texas, school. It moved Lamar’s Graduate College of Education from  211th  in the US to 7th in just 18 months.  “Financially , it’s been very good for Lamar”, according to a spokesman.

Here are the 2 views: Proponents see outsourcing as another innovative way to cut costs, access bigger markets , and add expertise to classrooms.The department chair at Missouri State says the outsourcing brings educators who “are likely to have superior credentials than would a per-course instructor hired from the local pool”.

Opponents say outsourcing threatens faculty jobs, diminishes interaction between students and profs, and can turn colleges into diploma mills. They are skeptical of the content and quality of such classes and of turning instruction over to an out-of-town company.

Discussion questions:

1. Do your students think this “innovative” way of  looking beyond traditional boundaries is a good idea? Why or why not?

2. Compare the concept in the article to the outsourcing of legal, IT,  or engineering work.

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