For-profit Colleges Grow Faster than Nonprofits despite Criticism and Investigations

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May 26, 2011; Source: Chronicle of Higher Education | The U.S. Department of Education has issued its "Condition of Education 2011" compendium, not exciting bedtime reading, but containing important information about where people, young and older, are going for higher education services. Some key points from the report:

  • The proportion of undergraduate students enrolled in for-profit institutions nearly tripled from 3.1 percent in 1999 to 9 percent in 2009.
  • The proportion of bachelor degrees awarded by for-profit colleges nearly tripled during that period, growing from1 percent in 1999 to 5 percent in 2009.
  • Surprising probably to many people, the average net price (basically tuition) for full-time undergraduates in 2007-2008 was $15,600 for public universities, $26,600 for private nonprofit colleges, and $30,900 for four-year for-profit institutions.
  • But the for-profits don't spend nearly as much on educating their students, averaging $2,659 in instructional expenditures compared to $9,418 for public universities and $15,289 spent by private nonprofit colleges per student.
  • Explain how it is that of students enrolled at for-profit two-year colleges in 2002, 58 percent had graduated by 2005 compared to only 21 percent for comparable two-year public colleges (try the fact that two-year students who transfer to four-year colleges are counted as not having graduated from their two-year programs).
  • Bad news: the average inflation-adjusted salary of young adults, aged 25 to 34, declined from $39,000 in 1980 to $38,000 in 2009.
  • "Among young adults employed full time with only a bachelor's degree, but no higher degree, average salaries fell from $48,600 in 2000 to $45,000 in 2009.The only group of young adults whose salaries grew during that decade were those with a master's degree or higher. Their average salary went from $56,100 to $60,000.

With all of the investigations by federal and state authorities regarding the post-college indebtedness of students from for-profit institutions, not to mention attention to their sometimes questionable academic content, it still appears that students are flocking to the for-profit colleges for something they think they aren't getting or can't get from nonprofit colleges and universities. – Rick Cohen