For-Profit Colleges: Graduation Rates Lag, Students’ Debt Mounts

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Graduation rates at for-profit colleges in Connecticut are nearly half the rate of some non-profit universities.

According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, students who attend four-year for-profit schools have much lower graduation rates compared to their public and private non-profit peers. Only 35 percent of students who attend a for-profit college in Connecticut graduate while students at public and private institutions’ rates are 55 percent and 67 percent.

Makyia Gatling

Those who do graduate from a non-profit often have a greater level of debt. Connecticut students at non-profit colleges had an average debt of $28,199, compared to $21,844 and $24,509 for public and private non-profit students, the federal report said.

This problem is apparent throughout the country. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, 96 percent of for-profit students take out student loans. This statistic is large compared to community colleges, at 13 percent; 4-year public universities, 48 percent, and 4-year private non-profit colleges, 57 percent.

Many students who drop out or graduate from a non-profit are left with nothing but debt. According to a National Center for Education Statistics study, 23 percent of students who attended for-profits colleges in 2008-2009 were unemployed and seeking work.

A two-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions demonstrated that federal taxpayers are investing billions of dollars a year – as much as $32 billion in one year – for companies that operate for-profit colleges. Yet, more than half of the students who enrolled in those colleges in 2008-2009 left without a degree or diploma within a median of four months, the committee found.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities called the report “the result of a flawed process that has unfairly targeted private-sector schools and their students.”

Under the administration of President Barack Obama, the U.S. government cracked down on for-profit schools’ low graduation rates and high student loans rates. However, the current U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, eased requirements on the schools once President Donald J. Trump took office.

One might ask why these students are not graduating and are being left in debt, and the Senate committee said the answer lies within for-profit colleges.

“For-profit colleges are owned and operated by businesses. Like any business, they are ultimately accountable by law for the returns they produce for shareholders,” the committee report said. “Federal law and regulations currently do not align the incentives of for-profit colleges so that the colleges succeed financially when students succeed.”

Numerous for-profit colleges are focusing on extracting money from students’ tuition in order to pay their companies, according to Tressie McMillian Cottom, the author of “Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.” In the book, she describes how for-profits prey on already disadvantaged students. Cottom said many college students fail to realize they are in for-profit colleges.

“Theoretically, the money is supposed to stay in the college and create a better working environment for the students and working environment for the faculty and staff,” Cottom told Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. “Well, for-profit colleges can do the opposite. That’s a problem if we think that relationship to tuition, thinking of it as profit, changes how the school works.”

The University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest for-profit college, has said the make-up of the student body in such colleges means they may not graduate as quickly as students at traditional colleges.

“It is unreasonable to expect nontraditional college students to complete their studies within an arbitrary, predetermined timeframe, especially when we know those students take longer to finish their degrees because they have families and professional obligations,” the University of Phoenix said in a statement to the New York Times.

Makyia Gatling is a student at Wilby High School, Waterbury.

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