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How Admissions Work at For-Profit Colleges

Jul 8, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Recently, a librarian at Everest College in Southern California discovered that the college, which is for-profit, admitted a man with a third-grade reading level and apparent developmental disabilities. The librarian resigned from her position at the college after writing to the college president, expressing her disappointment in the school’s decision to enroll the man and calling them to task for enrolling someone with limited understanding of the consequences of enrolling in college and incurring student debt. She received no response.

Everest College’s parent company, Corinthian Colleges, is under investigation by attorneys general in seventeen states and four federal agencies for various accusations of fraud. It has accumulated more than $1.46 billion in revenue from its students; much of this is paid by federal loan programs.

One issue many have with for-profit colleges is that they are not selective in which applicants they accept. Non-profit colleges generally have an incentive to be selective; the more selective they are, the higher they are placed on prominent college ranking publications. For non-profits, the best strategy is usually to take the students with the highest GPA, who can help them increase their rankings and the prestige of the school.

For-profit colleges have a different incentive. For them, more students means more money—and the colleges face pressure from shareholders to drive profits up by any means. As a result, some for-profits have faced censure for accepting even students who are not prepared for college—and who face limited job prospects after they graduate, even with a degree. They have also been criticized for training their admissions officers to act primarily as salespeople—promoting the school’s programs to prospective students and signing up as many people as possible.

For-profit colleges usually have open enrollment policies for traditional or accredited online programs. That means no tests are administered, the college typically doesn’t look at SAT or ACT scores, and there are few other criteria that are usually seen in nonprofit college admissions, such as interviews or essays. Students can meet with enrollment counselors at many schools, but the goal is for the counselor to get the student to enroll—not to determine whether the student is a good fit for the school.

There are pros and cons to this model. The obvious con is that students do get admitted who are arguably not prepared for college academically, and who have little potential to get a job in their field when they graduate.

For-profit schools are not inexpensive—some have prices comparable to that of expensive private schools. This means students who were not prepared for college and who, like the man in the story above, have little potential for employment can either become overwhelmed and drop out, or graduate with as few prospects as they had when they started studying—and with thousands of dollars in debt to go along with their degree. 

However, there are also benefits. Having low admission requirements means that anyone can enroll in these types of colleges, even those with a spotty high school academic record, no or low SAT scores, and few prospects at more selective nonprofit colleges. In addition, there’s rarely a waiting list at for-profit schools, as there frequently is at community colleges—the nonprofit alternative to for-profit schools for many nontraditional students.

There are many problematic things about for-profit schools that make the industry less than ideal. The motive of profit, when tied in with education, can push schools to adopt policies and take action in ways that are not in students’ best interests—such as prioritizing boosting enrollees at all costs to determining which students really are ready for college. However—perhaps ironically—for-profit schools may be the closest our academic system really comes to offering college for all.


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