Flogging For-profit Colleges

By Doug Lederman

The release of yet another report highly critical of for-profit higher education by yet another advocacy group in the nation’s capital barely qualifies as news these days — except that the report and the reaction to it so clearly underscore how critics and defenders of the colleges are talking past one another.

The study, released Tuesday by Education Trust, largely repackages previously published data on higher education companies — their booming enrollments (particularly of minority and low-income students), escalating dependence on federal financial aid, relatively low graduation rates (compared to most public and independent four-year colleges), and high student debt and default levels — to suggest that the colleges are a breeding ground for another crisis of the magnitude of the subprime mortgage loan meltdown. (The report’s none-too-subtle title: "Subprime Opportunity: High Dividends, Low Baccalaureates at For-Profit Colleges.")

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