For-Profit Schools: They Get IT

The for-profit sector of higher education has generated some disturbing headlines recently. Widely publicized charges of predatory recruiting practices have prompted new regulations and provided fuel for scorching criticism of the entire business model. But while the spotlight is focused on what for-profits are doing wrong, are we overlooking what they’re doing right? Can nonprofit colleges and universities learn something from their beleaguered brethren?

Notwithstanding the recent enrollment dip reported by the larger for-profits (a likely result of bad publicity and congressional scrutiny), this market sector has grown significantly over the past three decades. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), undergraduate enrollment at private, for-profit four-year institutions increased fiftyfold between 1980 and 2009, from 23,000 students to 1.2 million, and undergraduate enrollment at private, for-profit two-year institutions grew from 100,000 to 400,000. The US Department of Education says for-profit schools now account for about 12 percent of all higher education students.

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