Barring the few Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world, going to college may be one of the most important decisions in a person's life. And the college and program of study you choose could have important ramifications on your career prospects. Unfortunately, it seems that prospective students may not be so good at shopping around for schools before enrolling.
Recently, we spoke to students currently enrolled at both for-profit and community colleges, and our research suggests that these students are not comparative shoppers. Just 4 in 10 for-profit students and community college students had seriously considered more than one school before enrolling.
These findings are summarized in our new report, "Profiting Higher Education?" In addition to for-profit and community college students, we also surveyed for-profit alumni, employers and adult prospective students for this research.
Students are even less likely to compare for-profit with not-for-profit schools before enrolling, with just 20 percent of for-profit undergraduates having considered a not-for-profit college. Six percent of community college students considered a for-profit school during their college search. Many students seem to be drawn to either for-profit or not-for-profit schools, though rarely to both.
What's more, a large number of for-profit and community college students don't really understand what a for-profit school is, or how it is different from a public, non-profit school. An astounding 65 percent of current for-profit college students say they were "unsure" if their school was for-profit or not. Two in 3 community college students say they are unsure if their school in for-profit or not.
But does knowing this distinction matter, ultimately? Among adult prospective students, over half are unfamiliar with the term "for-profit college." However, when they learn about what differentiates for-profit from not-for-profit schools, particularly in the ways they are funded and governed, and some of their student outcomes, many became more distrustful of the for-profit institutions. (This finding is discussed in a prior report, part of the same project.)
Furthermore, the distinction between for-profits and not-for-profits seems to matter for many employers. While many perceive no difference between for-profit schools and public sector institutions, those who do view community college and public universities as superior. Just 5 percent say for-profit colleges are better than public universities at preparing students to work at their company.
"Profiting Higher Education?" is the third in a series of reports on critical issues and populations in higher education. The ongoing project was funded by The Kresge Foundation. Other reports in the series include "Not Yet Sold: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education" and "Is College Worth it For Me? How Adults Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School."