US NEWS: Students Are Returning to For-Profit Colleges

Career College Central Summary:

  • Here’s a puzzle. Enrollment continued to decline at public community colleges this 2014-15 academic year, but not so much at private, for-profit ones. Of course, the for-profit colleges offer not only two-year degrees, but also four-year and graduate ones too. But they’re both drawing from a similar pool of older, low-income students. So you’d expect these two types of institutions to experience similar trends.
  • The number of students at public community colleges has been declining for two good reasons. The first is demographics. Thanks to declining birth rates more than 20 years ago, the population of high school graduates has been steadily shrinking since 2010. That’s a smaller pool for colleges to draw from. The second is the economy. As businesses rebounded after the 2008 recession, so did hiring. Students older than 24 years, in particular, who make up almost 40 percent of community college students, are finding jobs and leaving school.
  • Add those two trends together and it’s easy to see why public two-year college enrollments fell 3.5 percent in the fall of 2014, compared with a year earlier, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That’s after two previous years of decline of 3.3 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
  • What’s startling is that for-profit universities have halted their enrollment declines. They’re both recruiting more new students and hanging on to more of the ones they have. According to the same National Student Clearinghouse data, the number of enrolled students at for-profits dropped only 0.4 percent in the fall of 2014, compared to a year earlier. That’s a dramatic improvement from the previous year’s decline of 9.7 percent.
  • The data show that for-profit colleges are particularly getting better at reaching out to younger students. The number of younger students enrolled at for-profits rose 2.8 percent, while the number of students older than 24 years fell 1.2 percent. Overall, more than 80 percent of students at for-profits are still older than 24.

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