Redefining Colleges’ Costs and Benefits

When the Nexus Research and Policy Center set out to study the costs and benefits of a bachelor’s degree, the results were perhaps unsurprising: the center, funded by the parent company and founder of the for-profit University of Phoenix, found that degrees are good for students and society, and that the education provided by for-profit and private colleges is a better deal for taxpayers than that offered by public institutions.

Outside experts questioned some of the methods of the study, "Who Wins? Who Pays? The Economic Returns and Costs of a Bachelor’s Degree," as well as its underlying assumptions. But they praised the researchers for trying to bring data to bear on a question that has generated emotional debate in the federal government and elsewhere: Just what is a for-profit education worth?

"There’s been more heat than light about both the costs and benefits of all higher education, but the for-profit sector in particular," said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, who was critical of the study’s underlying assumptions and generalizations. "This will advance the conversation; that’s a good thing."

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