How is our for-profit competition doing with student success?

This is a good article from Inside Higher Ed which begins the discussion about student success in for-profit schools. We talk a lot about their increasing presence in our backyard, but what does success look like in their environments? Do we need to be worried?

How Students Fare at For-Profits

April 1, 2010
Inside Higher Ed

Where does the truth about for-profit colleges lie?

Is it in the harshly critical investigative reports that stitch together one damaging anecdote after another to suggest that the institutions prey on academically underprepared, low-income students, leaving them with huge student loan debts and few job prospects?

Or, as the colleges’ officials themselves assert, is there a different (and more favorable) truth to be found in the huge numbers of underrepresented students who are flocking to the institutions in ever-growing numbers and emerging with credentials that help them enter the job market, to their own satisfaction and that of their employers?

Both supporters and critics of the for-profit higher education sector have tended to agree that the only way to really get at the reality of the institutions’ performance is by laying uncontested data about their students and graduates alongside those of other colleges, to directly compare their results with those of other types of institutions.

“Without credible data done by independent researchers, there is an existential threat to the operation of the sector,” Harris Miller, president of the Career College Association, the sector’s main advocacy group, said last fall at a meeting on just this topic. “The overriding suggestion is that we’re overselling or underdelivering. The only way we can ultimately combat that is with high-quality, independent research on outcomes. The big questions are, are they getting good jobs and are they able to repay their student loans?”

Some for-profit colleges have vowed to make their data available for independent researchers to mine, but so far, at least, no such work has emerged. This week, though, one of the country’s largest for-profit providers of higher education, Corinthian Colleges, is releasing a study it commissioned that its officials say begins to fill the information gap.

The study, which was conducted by the Parthenon Group, a strategic consulting firm that has worked with some for-profit colleges but also with major city school districts in Chicago and Boston, uses Education Department data to paint a picture that compares the sector’s institutions favorably to public community colleges.

The report can be roughly summarized in the following way, portraying for-profit colleges as:

  • Expanding their enrollments at roughly four times the rate of their public two-year college counterparts.
  • Enrolling greater proportions of students who are academically at risk than are public two-year colleges.
  • Providing education at a cost roughly comparable to that at community colleges, once all state and public subsidies are lumped in with students’ own tuition payments.
  • Producing outcomes that are roughly comparable to (if not somewhat better than) those of public two-year colleges, in terms of transfer or completion of associate degrees or certificates.
  • Improving the socioeconomic standing of students, to an extent roughly comparable to the boost provided by community colleges.
  • Leaving graduates with debt that is manageable in relation to the income they earn.

Full article available at

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