Books by John Sperling

Released: Jan. 1, 2000

A bountifully self-serving account by Sperling, CEO of the Apollo Group, the NASDAQ-listed parent company of the University of Phoenix, about how he came to found an education company with revenues of over $500 million and capitalization of $3 billion. In the 1960s, Sperling, campus radical and economic historian at San Jose State, developed a course for local teachers and police officers designed to help them reduce juvenile delinquency in their neighborhoods. Sperling, who had been poor as a child, was committed to helping others improve their lot through education. Noticing that adults did not have good access to higher education, he was inspired to start a company that would provide an educational "product" that was appropriate and convenient for adults. Attacked for creating "diploma mills," Sperling became embroiled in a war with the educational establishment, which he describes as "largely proxies for cultural battles between defenders of 800 years of educational (largely religious) tradition, and an innovation that was based on the values of the marketplace—transparency, efficiency, productivity and accountability." Unfortunately, Sperling barely articulates either his opponents' criticisms (choosing instead to characterize them as elitists intent on protecting middle-class privilege) or any details about the courses and degree programs his company offers. Readers may be left guessing what the "new model" for adult education is all about—and wondering why Sperling, who benefited from an elite education himself (Cambridge, UC Berkeley), does not recommend the same nostrum for all underprivileged students. Perhaps he believes that Wall Street investors, who now own his company, have little interest in academic debates. Yet by omitting any substantive arguments, Sperling has missed an opportunity to tell the world how his programs succeed, not only in providing a profitable form of education, but in providing a better education, or indeed one half so good, as the models he disdains. A lamentably failed apologia for for-profit education. Read full book review >