Published on 2012/02/16

Why For-Profit Institutions Can Be A Good Option For Some Students

Why For-Profit Institutions Can Be A Good Option For Some Students
For-profits offer their students programming that’s relevant to them and quick to complete. Photo by Peter Fristedt.

For-profits tend to get a lot of flack in the world of higher ed. Unfortunately, the influx of fly-by-night diploma mills have raised an army of skeptics who question the motives of these emerging institutions with their assurances of gainful employment, and more relevant, short-term training programs with a slightly higher price tag. No doubt, smatterings of reports about questionable recruitment practices have done little to elevate the reputation of for-profit schools. But for all the negative press they receive, I think we would be remiss to not make room at the table for them as legitimate post-secondary learning centers.

Any good college recruiter knows that it’s all about best fit when it comes to helping a student identify what college may be right for them. I believe that for-profit institutions can serve certain types of students very well, particularly the adult student market. One of the biggest strengths of for-profit schools are their ability to offer training that focuses on a particular niche industry. This is perfect for adults who may already work in an industry and need continuing education to keep their skills fresh. Adult students don’t often have the time to complete two and three year programs, especially if they already have a degree. They want to take courses that are relevant to them and they want to get done as soon as possible.

Another strong selling point for for-profit programs is that they are often formatted in more convenient, shorter-termed training programs that get right to the core of the skills that need to be learned for the profession. What is convenient about these programs is the flexibility of the course scheduling. Programs usually run either consecutively or concurrently making it easier for students to start courses no matter when they apply. I think community colleges and four-year institutions miss the boat in limiting their start dates for programs. Usually if a student doesn’t start in the fall, they miss important introductory courses which can, in some cases, set them back an entire semester.

The benefits of attending a for-profit institution are numerous and should not be dismissed just because of the unscrupulous practices of a few institutions. Again, it’s about best fit. Our responsibility as college admissions professionals is to make sure that we provide potential students with the information that will allow them to make an informed and accurate educational decision.

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Readers Comments

Yancy Oshita 2012/02/16 at 8:34 am

with 95 million Americans lacking a bachelors degree and shocking U.S. rankings in math and science globally, it seems post-secondary institutions as a whole are not reaching out effectively to the underserved/undereducation populations. Given this, for-profits or private sector colleges provide additional choices (and modes such as the growth in online degrees!) for not just underserved/ undereducated, but all to access HE to pursue our dreams…a colleague of mine is a single working mom in her late 30s with 2 kids who earned her associates at a CC and will be graduating this fall with her bachelors w. a specialization in a high-growth field! And, yes, from a “for-profit” institution. thanks for your point of view, Christina!

    Christina Wood 2012/02/16 at 8:26 pm

    Hi Yancy! Thanks for your response. Good for your colleague! I think that a lot of HEIs make the mistake of thinking that they can be all things to all people. But there are other types of institutions that can effectively serve specific populations. I think that’s the beauty of American higher education. People come from all over the world to study at our colleges and universities and I think what attracts them is our diversity.

Paul Ewell 2012/02/16 at 12:53 pm

The problem is not the number of folks with degrees. The problem is that schools are not maintaining standards that require actual student learning. Having worked for several for-profit schools in the past, I was not impressed. And, these were regionally accredited schools. Retention and numbers. That’s it.

Christina Wood 2012/02/16 at 8:29 pm

Hi Paul,

You make a valid point. As I mentioned in my post, there are certainly some institutions out there that truly fail students when it comes to facilitating actual student learning. They instead serve as diploma mills. But I do have to say that there are a number of for-profits that have some very good academic programs that are challenging and are producing positive learning outcomes.

Andrea 2012/02/19 at 8:10 am

That is something I need to do more research into, appreciation for the blog post.

John Mason 2012/02/21 at 6:46 pm

It is interesting that the term “for-profit institution” seems to be used in the USA a lot but not so much around other parts of the world.

I never heared this in Australia (despite working in education for over 3 decades), until I started looking at what was going on in the UK. I don’t hear the term much in the UK either.

It seems a little crazy to me differentiating colleges on the basis of whether they do or don’t make a profit.

In Australia we differentiate between government accredited courses, and non accredited. In recent years, the government accredited have been getting more & more criticism (Interesting comment in today’s paper -whether we are compromising on quality for quantity in higher education).

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