For-Profit College Enrollment Soared 418 Percent

The number of bachelors degrees given out by for-profit colleges skyrocketed by 418 percent since 2000, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Of the 4.4 million students who enrolled in college between 2000 and 2009, 27 percent of them enrolled in private for-profit institutions. The decade before that, only 7 percent of new undergrads enrolled in for-profit schools. The industry’s success is partly due to its unorthodox focus on advertising and recruitment.

For-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix and ITT Technical Institute have drawn criticism from education wonks and lawmakers for aggressive recruitment tactics targeting low-income students. Detractors note that many for-profit schools hire recruiters working on commission to tap into people’s "pain" and feelings of inadequacy. Many for-profit colleges get as much as 80 percent of their total revenue from their students’ federal loans–and a good deal of that money goes right back into the schools’ advertising campaigns.

While for-profit students only account for about 12 percent of all college students, they take up a quarter of all federal grants and represent 43 percent of all defaults, according to data from the federal Department of Education. The industry is currently fighting a bevy of new restrictions from the Department of Education, and argues that its default rate is high simply because its schools serve more low-income students. Officials at for-profit universities also point out that many community colleges–which typically cater to a lower-income student population–are overcrowded, and that for-profits provide an alternative.

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