More on for-profit universities

By Maureen Aylward

While for-profit have been in the news recently regarding recruiting and marketing tactics, applications, and revenues continue to rise. We asked our Zintro experts what makes for-profit universities attractive and why there so much growth in this market.

Grace Farfaglia, a registered dietician and lecturer, says that for-profits are better able to articulate the need for students to get prepared for a specific vocation, especially in a period of recession. “Gone are the days of getting any degree and being qualified for a job. Like any rational person, students who are attracted to for-profits are looking for the best value for their college dollar,” she says.  “The way for-profits communicate is slick and culturally competent. For marginal students or young adults who are single parents unable to move to another city for education, access is enhanced when a college is close to work or home. The for-profit colleges have also been at the forefront of distance education and flexible scheduling of courses and curriculum.”

Farfaglia says that the real engine of growth is the easy availability of college loans through different state and federal guarantee programs. “This can be a double-edge sword. Yes, it allows a student to delay paying for college until they are employed, but it may make the student less conscious of doing due diligence on whether the school has the resources and ability to match preparation to the skills needed in the marketplace,” she says.

Keith Hampson, a digital educational consultant, says that the growth of for-profit universities is due to:

  • Greater attention to, and investment in, marketing and admissions (as much as 25% of the total budget);
  • A focus on the fastest growing market segments (minority students and working adults);
  • The inability/unwillingness of traditional institutions to direct their attention away from the traditional student market (18-24 year olds);
  • A greater capacity to scale-up operations and benefit from economies of scale than traditional, non-profit institutions;
  • Greater attention to labor market needs (aligning programs with availability of jobs); and
  • Focus on online learning (which is growing at roughly 20% per year since 2002).

Deborah Wise, PhD, an expert in media, education, and training, says that for-profit universities are gaining ground due to three factors:

1. Convenience. “For profit universities have generally been ahead of the technology curve, making flexible and completely online programs part of the degree offerings. These schools have night and weekend classes; they offer self-directed study; and they frequently offer credit for life experience, which can reduce a student’s time to completion,” she says.

2. Standardization. For-profit schools are for-profit. “Instructors must balance potentially large class sizes with meeting course objectives. This balance is frequently manifested in standardized assignments and quizzes, as opposed to individual written assignments. Capstones for master’s and doctorate level degrees are more frequently comprehensive exams or practical application as opposed to a thesis or dissertation, which involves more time and individual attention,” says Wise.

3. Speed to completion. “Prospective students who are in the workforce are less likely to be attracted to a program where they face years of night school to complete a degree. For-profit schools not only offer credit for life experience (if it has been properly documented), they offer shorter completion times than traditional schools by reducing semester length (sometimes to as little as 5 weeks). These shorter semesters can be a double-edged sword: They can help a student visualize holding a degree in the not too distant future, but they are unforgiving if a student misses an assignment or has not developed a rigorous approach to learning,” Wise explains.

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