For-profits award more degrees

More Americans are earning postsecondary degrees — especially at for-profit institutions — according to the new Condition of Education report.

From 1998–99 to 2008–09, the number of associate’s degrees awarded increased by 41 percent, bachelor’s degrees by 33 percent, master’s degrees by 49 percent, first-professional degrees by 17 percent, and doctoral degrees by 54 percent (see table A-42-1).

Increases were greatest at for-profit colleges and universities, concluded the report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The number of associate’s degrees awarded from 1998–99 to 2008–09 more than doubled at for-profit institutions (from 64,000 to 144,300 degrees), compared to a 33 percent gain at public colleges (from 448,300 to 596,100 degrees) and a 1 percent decrease at private nonprofits (from 47,600 to 46,900 degrees).

For-profits now issue 18 percent of all associate’s degrees, up from 11 percent 10 years earlier.

By contrast, for-profits award only 5 percent of bachelor’s degrees, despite more than quadrupling the percentage from 1998–99 to 2008–09 (from 16,300 to 84,700 degrees).  Public colleges and universities increased bachelor’s degrees by 29 percent; private not-for-profit institutions increased by 26 percent.

For-profits also issue many more master’s and professional degrees, but remain a small percentage of the total.

The number of private for-profit 2-year institutions increased from 480 to 570 during the decade, while the total number of all 2-year institutions decreased from 1,710 to 1,690.

The two-year for-profit colleges have much stronger retention and completion rates, compared to community colleges, notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Among students who enrolled full time at for-profit two-year colleges in the fall of 2002, 58 percent had graduated from those institutions by 2005. At public two-year colleges, the equivalent figure was just 21 percent.

Those statistics don’t include community college students who transfer to a four-year college before completing an associate degree.

But even if early transfers were included, the for-profit two-year colleges do a better job of helping students complete a career credential, argue researchers such as James E. Rosenbaum, a professor of sociology and education at Northwestern, and Brian Bosworth of Future Works, author of Complete College America’s Certificates Count report. At community colleges, students often wait to get into the right classes or wander through electives that don’t help them complete a degree, say Rosenbaum and Bosworth.  For-profit career colleges organize coherent programs of study that lead directly to a credential.