Methodology in Brief

This report summarizes survey findings from representative samples of 595 adult Americans 18 years and older for-profit college attendees and 406 adults enrolled in community college. The for-profit attendees sample includes representative subsamples of alumni who completed their degrees or certificates at for-profit colleges within fifteen years of survey fielding (N=272); students currently enrolled at for-profit colleges at the time of fielding (N=235); and non-completers i.e., people who started a degree or certificate at a for-profit college within fifteen years of fielding, did not complete their degree or certificate at that college and never subsequently completed elsewhere (N=88). A separate report summarizes findings from a representative survey of 217 alumni of online degree programs at public and private nonprofit colleges. The survey was designed by Public Agenda and fielded March 17 to May 31, 2022, by SSRS. Respondents completed the survey online in English and Spanish.

To confirm the type of higher education institution that respondents were attending or had attended, Public Agenda used IPEDS data from 2014 to 2020 to build a list of private for-profit institutions, public four-year institutions, public two-year institutions (community colleges), and private non-profit institutions. This list was programmed into the online survey instrument. Respondents chose the institution they had attended or were attending from the list and were counted toward the appropriate sample quota. Respondents who did not choose any of the institutions on the list had the option to enter an open-ended response and answer survey questions; Public Agenda then reviewed and categorized the institution they had named so that SSRS could assign them to the appropriate sample or remove their data.

The margin of error for the 595 for-profit enrollees is ± 7.3 percentage points. The margin of error for the 406 current community college students is ± 8.1 percentage points. Margins of error for subgroups are larger.

The sample was randomly drawn from SSRS’s online probability panel and from online non-probability panels. SSRS weighted the probability completes using standard base weight adjustments and raking to external demographic benchmarks and then used hybrid calibration procedures to blend the probability and non-probability samples.

Before designing the survey, Public Agenda conducted three demographically diverse online focus groups in October 2021 with for-profit alumni, current students, and non-completers. Focus group recruiters confirmed that participants were attending or had attended a for-profit college based on a list of institutions built by Public Agenda from IPEDS data.

When referencing this report, cite Public Agenda. This research is supported by Arnold Ventures. For a complete methodology and topline with full question wording, click here please contact research@publicagenda.org.