The Merits of Online For-Profit Colleges and Universities

Recent revelations about deceptive recruiting practices, dismal graduation rates, and high loan default rates have raised serious questions about the legitimacy of for-profit colleges and universities. In a post on the New York Times blog, Judith Scott-Clayton makes the following points in defense of the merits of for-profit schools.

1. For-profit schools do a better job securing financial aid for students than community colleges or public four-year universities. Data from the Education Department shows that 88 percent of full-time, low-income students at for-profit colleges and universities received Pell Grants, compared to 76 percent of four-year public university students in the same category, and only 61 percent of community college students. For-profit schools appear to invest more in their student services than other schools and provide more assistance with finding and applying for financial aid.

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2. For-profit schools continue to be pioneers in online education and innovation. Most for-profit colleges and universities offer online degree programs. The same cannot be said for traditional colleges and universities, most of which have been slow to respond to the rise of online education. Because for-profit schools are essentially businesses, they must constantly adapt and innovate to remain competitive in the education marketplace if they are to remain profitable. In addition to the financial incentive to innovate, for-profit schools typically don’t have years of habit and tradition holding them back from trying something different and thus are more likely to experiment with new ways of doing things.

3. For-profit schools disrupt the status quo. Because of the incentive and willingness to innovate in the education market, for-profit colleges and universities provide a much needed challenge to the old ways of doing things. By introducing different models and modes of education, for-profit schools challenge all colleges and universities to reflect on their own approaches to educating their students and force them to ask whether their might be better ways to go about it.