Enrollments Plunge at Many For-Profit Colleges

Enrollment at many for-profit colleges has fallen sharply in recent months, a reflection of a weak economy and increased scrutiny of the sector.

New-student enrollment declined an average of 14.1 percent this quarter at 10 of the biggest for-profit educators, according to company financial disclosures and analysts’ reports. The slide has come as some of those institutions curbed their aggressive recruiting practices amid growing pressure from federal and state lawmakers.

Total enrollments are also dropping as students and families weigh the value of for-profit degrees. A surge in lawsuits against companies in the sector has created negative publicity that has made consumers wary. For-profits have been criticized for not adequately preparing students for jobs that will allow them to repay their loans at a time when the affordability of college is being questioned more generally.

Industry leaders say the enrollment dip is part of a natural readjustment after a long stretch of double-digit increases, and they remain optimistic about expanding, given their relatively small market share in higher education. They foresee a period of tempered growth in coming years.

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