For-Profit College Grads Divided on Value of Their Degrees

A new report by Public Agenda found that 38% of grads said their degrees were worth the cost, while 37% said they weren't worth the investment.
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  • For-profit students (32%) prioritized affordability less than community college students (59%).
  • For-profit attendees would rather support their institutions by advocating for publicly reported outcomes, improvement plans, and student support than punish them with closures and accreditation removal.
  • Nearly two-thirds of for-profit grads and 78% of noncompleting students report having difficulty paying off student loans to pay for college.

Many for-profit college graduates aren't satisfied with the return on their investment, according to a new report from Public Agenda.

Only a few grads found the cost of their degrees worth it. Of the 595 for-profit college attendees surveyed, 38% said their degrees were worth the price, while 37% said their degrees weren't worth it. The remaining grads said their degree value remains to be seen.

The report — from Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research firm, and funded by philanthropic organization Arnold Ventures — was based on a survey of 595 for-profit students, graduates, and dropouts. It also compared responses with 406 community college students.

A large percentage of for-profit students rely on student loans to pay for college: 60%. And 63% of grads and 78% of noncompleting students say it's difficult to pay their student loans.

With the college tuition and fees increasing by 78% from 2000-2020 at most four-year institutions, for-profit colleges stayed largely the same price.

However, BestColleges previously reported that about half of for-profit students default on their student loans. Defaulting happens when a borrower fails to make loan payments, which can result in wage withholdings and benefit withholdings like Social Security and income tax credits.

The Public Agenda report indicated that current for-profit students may be underestimating their future debt or overestimating future earnings; 44% of current students are expecting difficulty paying loans.

The report found that more community college students (74%) paid attention to affordability information than for-profit students (58%).

The same was true for students who prioritized college price when enrolling: 59% of community college students prioritized college pricing compared to 32% of for-profit students.

Closing Colleges

Price hasn't affected attendees' views of their for-profit college experience: 83% are generally satisfied with their college experience. Regarding school practices, about 40% of grads and noncompleting students said their schools struggled with tutor availability, internships, work experience, career services or job placement, and health services.

Current students don't share the same critiques; only a small percentage had these feelings.

Of noncompleting attendees, 12% say that the reason they didn't complete college was because their school shut down, and 6% say their school lost accreditation.

In 2022, Quest College, a for-profit school in Texas, shut down 10 days before graduation with no notice to students, leaving 299 students without anywhere to go.

BestColleges previously reported that from 2014-2019, 88% of for-profit campuses have closed and that for-profit institutions were responsible for displacing 85% of U.S. college students.

But for-profit attendees aren't looking to shut down these schools. They would rather build them up.

For-profit students prefer to support schools with low graduation rates, high debt loads, or poor outcomes by calling for publicly reported outcomes, improvement plans, counseling, and other student support. Few called for federal aid withdrawal, closure, or accreditation removal as punishment for inadequacies.