In Defense of For-Profit Colleges
For-profit colleges have been targeted by government officials, including President Obama and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who claim these schools take advantage of low-income students, burdening them with student debt and limited job prospects upon graduation (if they graduate at all). Yet, these same officials are unfairly aiming their crosshairs at for-profit institutions while applying weaker standards and greater accommodation with not-for-profit schools.
For-profit schools enable low-income and racial minority students, including many who are non-traditional, to gain practical, skills-based training that better equips them for the marketplace relative to many traditional academic paths. As Manhattan Institute adjunct fellow Judah Bellin points out, New York State’s two-year, degree-granting, for-profit colleges graduate a higher percentage of their students than any other higher education sector, including private non-profit colleges.
A generation ago, for-profit schools awarded virtually no bachelor’s degrees. Today, for-profit colleges account for 20 percent of associate’s degrees and 7 percent of bachelor’s degrees. As STEM careers become ever more important, critics should take note that for-profit colleges produce 51 percent of associate degrees in computer science and information technology, according to research by Harvard University.
In a bipartisan age of seeking ways to reduce incarceration and help improve opportunities for low-income men, data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that private for-profit institutions males had a higher graduation rate than females (35 vs. 28 percent). Geographically, just 18 percent of associate-degree students and 12 percent of students enrolled in certificate programs at for-profits have nonprofit alternatives (certificate programs in the same field of study) in their ZIP code, according to a study by a Northwestern University economist and the consultancy Charles River Associates for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.
“It’s about time to bring them in from out of the cold,” economist Robert Cherry of Brooklyn College–City University of New York said of for-profit schools at a recent American Enterprise Institute discussion on black male empowerment. As Cherry also noted, these for-profit associate and occupational programs don’t preclude advancement into four-year college programs. They just help enable a solid base to build upon—that is, they are “stackable,” as author Nicholas Wyman argues in his book Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need.
“For-profit colleges are more nimble than most traditional colleges, including community colleges, in developing and implementing programs,” states a report from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “When those programs respond to workforce needs and result in jobs in high demand fields that pay good salaries, the outcome for students can be excellent.”
The committee also reported that for-profit colleges receive the largest share of military educational benefit programs. In recent years, 37 percent of post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and 50 percent of Department of Defense Tuition Assistance benefits flowed to for-profit colleges. And eight of the top 10 recipients of Department of Veterans Affairs post-9/11 GI Bill funds went to for-profit education companies.
Clearly the demand for these programs is high. If they were as devious as regulators are making them out to be, there would be no market for them. The free market is remarkably efficient at spotting incompetence. Sure, there are bad apples in every sector, and those should be weeded out. But rather than taking a knee-jerk, heavy-handed regulatory approach to these for-profit schools, it betters serve students, particularly minority students and veterans, to ensure these schools are able to stay open, so they can compete and innovate.
This article was written by Carrie Sheffield from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.