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Benefits of For-Profit Schools

Nov 9, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

If you’re considering enrolling in college, you might be a bit leery of for-profit schools—and you’d be right to be concerned. Federal-level attention has focused on the industry lately, revealing plenty of worrisome issues. For example, students at for-profit colleges are approximately twice as likely to default on their student loans. For-profit colleges take up almost a quarter of all federal student aid, and an astonishingly low number—9%--of students at for-profit colleges graduate within six years.

In addition, for-profit colleges have been shown to adopt high-pressure tactics to get students to sign up, regardless of preparation, so the college can get the federal tuition money—often leaving unprepared students with a mountain of debt, no degree, and no job. Clearly, the for-profit industry has a lot to answer for.

But nonprofit colleges aren’t perfect, either. Many nonprofit colleges have astronomical tuition bills. Some with high-profile sports teams recruit heavily—and sometimes unethically—for athletic students who are likely to improve the college team’s national
standing and earnings, prioritizing athletic ability over scholarship in
college grant distribution. And at some high-profile colleges,
professors are hired based on research interests and publishing records, not
teaching ability—good for the school, not always so good for the students. 

Defenders of for-profit education say that the industry plays an important role in making education accessible to low-income students who can’t afford traditional college—and can’t take time off to earn a bachelor’s degree. Here are a few of the benefits for-profit colleges bring to higher education.

Piggy on Books

There’s no question that the for-profit college industry is far from perfect. But the baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater.

Schedules are designed with working students in mind

For-profit colleges know that their largest student base consists of people who work full-time jobs. And most colleges adjust to that, with class times at night and on weekends as well as fully-flexible online classes. That can make a huge difference to students struggling to fit study time around one or more jobs or parents caring full-time for young children.

Most for-profits depend on online education

Traditional colleges have been getting into online education—some traditional campuses even offer 100% online degrees. But the traditional academic environment is fairly resistant to change, and a large percentage of colleges still don’t offer 100% online degrees. But in the for-profit world, online education is practically a given. If anything, the reverse is true—it can be difficult to find a for-profit school with a brick-and-mortar campus presence, but almost all for-profit schools offer online classes. These classes make education much more accessible to people who have challenging schedules and those who can’t afford to physically move to campus to study.

Professors are paid to teach, not conduct research

In many traditional colleges—particularly the more prestigious ones—professors are hired mainly on their research qualifications and interests, not their teaching abilities. Despite the quality associated with the names of some of these schools, this practice can bring down the quality of teaching students receive. In for-profit schools, the focus is on teaching.

Some community colleges are overcrowded

The other college institution that traditionally serves low-income students and working adults is community colleges. These have traditionally low tuition as well as schedules that tend to be more accommodating to students who work full-time—but many community colleges are extremely overcrowded. Facing shortfalls because of state and local budget problems, these colleges often turn students away purely because of space reasons—or put students on waiting lists that can last years.

For-profit schools, however, often depend more strongly on online education—where space isn’t an issue. No matter how many students sign up, for-profit colleges have room. And because they don’t depend on direct government funding allocation, the government’s budget woes don’t affect them.

There’s no question that the for-profit college industry is far from perfect. But the baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater. Despite its flaws, the industry does play an important role in helping low-income and working students get degrees. If it can boost graduation rates, bring tuition down and do more to assure its students are prepared, the industry may be able to serve its students better—and play a more positive role in higher education. 


Bonnie McAfee Over a year ago

Some of those statistics are discouraging.. though I suspect a lot of these factors are relevant to all colleges. Surely there's no 'one size fits all' solution. Very interesting article though.

Rishona Campbell Over a year ago

There is another benefit of a for-profit university that I tell people about; that of more flexibility and options in regards to majors. I find that for-profits universities do not have the bureaucracies in place that many non-profit universities have when it comes to creating and updating academic programs. For example, I distinctly remember how in the 90s, the large, public state university that I attended offered a "Computer Science" degree out of the college of arts & sciences that was essentially a math major with 15 hrs of computer programming courses thrown in. It wasn't until the 2000s, that the school of engineering offered the major....and even then, the core curriculum was the same as any other engineering major. Today, you are still hard pressed to find 4-year degrees at non-profit universities that offer significant coursework in cutting edge fields such as IT networking, social media, health information technology, and project management. However several for-profit schools offer entire degrees in these fields. By offering relevant, cutting-edge coursework, some people may find that their interest and motivation last longer and it translates into them being able to finish their programs.

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