Public higher education in the United States has become more privatized over the last half-century. One way it has adapted to this privatized environment is through the use of a new funding model, the public-private venture (PPV). PPVs are increasing rapidly in Georgia’s higher education system, and yet little is known about the implications of their use. This issue is significant because billions of dollars are invested in Georgia alone. Leaders must be able to utilize privatized financial tools and understand the best conditions for their use.
With the goal of contributing to the literature about how PPVs are used, there were four research questions that guided this study: (1) how has the PPV model been used in an urban public university? (2) what are the internal and external forces that cause a public university to use the PPV model? (3) what is gained and lost by using this model? and (4) what strengths and challenges have resulted from the implementation of PPVs? A qualitative case study was conducted on the Georgia Institute of Technology and specifically three of its housing facilities, two that are PPVs and one that is not.
Six themes regarding the breadth and extent of PPV use at this institution were identified: (1) determination of control, responsibility, oversight, and autonomy; (2) the need to balance risk and debt; (3) how closely to follow the market model; (4) the effects of decreased state support; (5) the connection between strategic planning and the use of PPVs; and (6) the creation of new, even more privatized, financial models.
The seventh and most significant finding was the identification of three distinct pressures present in the PPV model—control, responsibility, and oversight—or a “triangle of pressure.” This newly introduced concept emphasizes the three pressures that must be carefully balanced when engaging in partnerships that involve both public and private entities in public higher education.
The trend of privatization in the academy is here for the foreseeable future, and leaders should carefully consider the implications for their institutions, their state systems, and their students and plan accordingly.
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