For-Profit Colleges Defend Their Stature

These aren’t your parents’ colleges.

There are typically no sprawling campuses, no fraternities or sororities, no students reading books under trees and no sports teams.

In some cases, there aren’t campuses or classrooms at all. Instead, at many of the nation’s for-profit institutions — now under heavy scrutiny from the Obama administration — students take classes exclusively online.

If there is a physical campus, it isn’t uncommon for it to occupy a few floors in a run-of-the-mill business park. Many times, they can be found right off the highway, a beacon to would-be students, many of whom aren’t fresh out of high school, but instead have children at home and 9-to-5 jobs.

The striking differences between for-profit schools and their traditional public counterparts aren’t accidental. Rather, they are made with a purpose: no-nonsense career training with no designs of giving students the keg parties and football games that the majority of college-educated Americans have experienced.

“We serve a different kind of student. We don’t look like a traditional college,” said Kent Jenkins, a spokesman for Corinthian Colleges Inc., the umbrella company for three for-profit college brands in the U.S. and Canada. “We are built to teach folks who are looking for a different type of experience. We are about career education. We are in a business location. We have a business environment, and that’s a good thing.”

Corinthian’s Everest College branch in McLean occupies the second floor of an office building in a business park just off Interstate 495. Inside, students take classes in medical assisting, nursing and other fields, but not in the usual semester format. Classes are conducted on a month-to-month basis. Students take one class for four hours a day, five days a week. When they’re finished, they move on to the next one.

The students are usually in their mid- to late 20s or early 30s, Mr. Jenkins said. Many have children, and some work jobs while taking classes, which is why Everest classes run until 11 p.m. weeknights. Some campuses offer weekend sessions.

Ten percent to 12 percent of the nation’s college students attend for-profits such as Everest. The largest, the University of Phoenix, has been operating for more than three decades and has locations across the continent. It may be the most recognizable, in part because it pays for the naming rights at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and college football’s Fiesta Bowl and host of Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

Other for-profits zero in on narrow areas of education. Full Sail University in Florida, for example, focuses on Web design, music, film, animation and related studies. Other institutions specialize in fashion, teach computer and technical skills, or cater to members of the military.

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