The University of Phoenix Online is the nation’s top producer of associate degrees, reports Community College Week in its annual look at postsecondary institutions awarding associate and pre-baccalaureate certificates.
In the 2008-09 academic year, the online giant conferred 23,824 associate degrees, a 97 percent jump from the year before, and more than three times as many second-ranking institution, Florida’s Miami Dade College.
. . . Pick the academic discipline — business and management, computer and information sciences, criminal justice, family and consumer services, education, health professions, security and protective services — and the University of Phoenix Online Campus leads the way.
Ten percent of U.S. college students are enrolled in 3,000 for-profit colleges nationwide. Because of the high costs, they consume about 25 percent of all federal financial aid, CC Week reports.
Moreover, according to federal data, 21 percent of for-profit-college graduates defaulted within three years on loans they began repaying in fiscal year 2007, compared to the 12 percent rate for all borrowers. Those facts have placed for-profit colleges squarely in the sights of federal regulators.
Community colleges don’t have the funding to meet increased demand. Students can’t get into the classes they need to complete a degree to train for a new job. For-profit colleges offer convenient, accessible classes that run year-round.
“The for-profits are leading the way in online learning,” says Diane Auer Jones, former postsecondary assistant secretary in the U.S. Education Department.
“For-profits have organizational cultures grounded in the goal of educating as many students as possible,” writes Kevin Carey, policy director of Education Sector.
Many publics only want to serve a certain number of students, and no more. It’s an open question as to whether for-profits are providing a ‘good enough’ education, but then it’s an open question for community colleges too, which leads us back to the need for more public scrutiny, transparency and consumer information.
If community colleges can’t or won’t provides classes for students, ” we can’t blame for-profits for picking up the slack,” Carey told CC Week.
Community colleges share the market with an increasingly diverse array of other education providers.
Over the last 10 years, the traditional community college has lost about 9 percentage points in the market share of associate degree conferrals, declining from roughly three quarters (74 percent) to under two-thirds of the total (65 percent).
For-profits could lose students if the Education Department ties eligibility for student loans to graduates’ ability to earn enough to pay back their debts. The rule was expected to be announced this month, but has been postponed for further consideration after massive lobbying by the for-profit colleges, which argue that black and Hispanic students and other non-traditional students would be denied educational opportunities.
Today, House Democrats called for investigating for-profit and proprietary institutions. They asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to analyze educational quality and determine how much of revenue comes from federal aid and other sources.