What for-profit colleges do right

For all the failings of four-year for-profit colleges, the two-year for-profits do a good job graduating students, writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. Nearly 60 percent of students at for-profit schools earn an associate’s degree or professional certificate within three years, compared to 22 percent of community college students.


Including community college students who transfer to a four-year institution before earning an associate degree might boost completion stats to as much as 40 percent, according to the American Association Community Colleges. In addition, for-profit colleges award a greater percentage of certificates, which are faster and easier to complete. But there’s still a lot to learn from the for-profit colleges’ success with hard-to educate students, Weissmann concludes.

For-profit colleges have been singled out for “gainful employment” regulation that should apply to all colleges, editorializes the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama Administration argues that for-profits present a bigger risk. While they educate 12% of students, they receive a quarter of federal student aid and account for nearly half of loan defaults. However, career and technical schools also enroll a larger share of “high risk” students who are more likely to be poor, racial minorities, single parents and first-generation students. Studies that control for such factors find similar default rates among students at for-profits, community colleges and historically black colleges.

If gainful employment rules were applied to all colleges, “many historically black colleges and community colleges in the inner cities where wages are lower would also be barred from taking federal student aid,” the Journal argues.

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[…] Two-year for-profit colleges do a good job graduating disadvantaged students with vocational certificates and associate degrees. […]

Michael Gosselin

Certainly, community colleges can do more to keep “at risk” students engaged in their classes, but we have to be careful when we say that for-profit colleges have more “success with hard-to educate students,” or that getting them through the program means they’re receiving their $50K’s worth. I taught at such a school for a few years, and the most crucial piece of paperwork that I had to deal with was the attendance sheet. If a student wasn’t there, I had to call them at home, or send a text message (using a text pre-written by the company, such as “Missed u in schl.”) It felt more like taking inventory than providing an education.

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