Key Findings

  1. For-profit undergraduates aren’t comparative shoppers. Most considered only one school before enrolling. Just about 4 in 10 undergraduate students at for-profit colleges say they seriously considered other schools before enrolling at their current institutions. Rarely do these students compare for-profit with not-for-profit institutions—for most it is either/or. In fact, the “for-profit college” concept is largely unknown among these students; most are unsure whether their schools are for-profit or not. Moreover, adult prospective students interested in for-profit schools are more likely than others to say they learned about colleges from advertisements.
  2. Adult prospective students who are considering for-profit colleges have some distinct expectations, priorities and needs. Among adults without degrees who are considering going back to school, those interested in enrolling at for-profit institutions are more likely than others to be drawn to schools that offer online classes, accelerated degrees, personal guidance from career counselors, financial aid advisers and tutors, and practical, work-related experience.
  3. For-profit undergraduates and alumni laud their schools on key quality indicators, but many worry about the cost—and ultimate value—of their education. Current for-profit undergraduates are generally highly satisfied with the quality of their instructors, tutors and advisers, as well as with the structure and efficiency of their programs. Alumni, too, praise their former schools on many measures. At the same time, both current students and graduates are concerned about the financial burden they have taken on. While current undergraduates remain optimistic that college will pay off in the form of better jobs and higher incomes, only a minority of for-profit alumni are certain their credentials were worth their cost.
  4. Either employers are neutral on whether for-profit or public colleges provide a higher-quality education, or they give an edge to public institutions. Employers know comparatively little about the for-profit colleges in their metropolitan areas, but they have favorable views of the for-profits they do know. When asked to compare for-profit colleges in general with public sector institutions on a range of quality indicators, about half of employers perceive few differences. The other half typically view public institutions as superior on a number of counts, including preparing students to work at their organizations.