The Chicago Tribune reported that enrollment at for-profit colleges has been steadily decreasing.
For-profit colleges have faced intense scrutiny over the past few years. Multiple highly publicized school closings left countless students with mountains of debt and no (or a worthless) degree to show for it. Interestingly enough, enrollment at for-profit colleges has been on a downward slope for years, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Enrollment at for-profit colleges has been steadily declining since 2010. In 2017, enrollment at for-profit colleges fell to 901,000, which is a drop of 69,000 from the previous year.
Timothy Lutts, president of an investment advisory company, told the Tribune that the for-profit education industry was "… a great sector a decade ago," but is now in decline.
Enrollment at for-profit colleges took off during the financial crisis when many Americans started looking to go back to school and learn new skills. The for-profit industry targeted untraditional students, women, and individuals of color. They also heavily targeted veterans. This caused enrollment at for-profit colleges to rise to a record 2 million students in 2010.
But many students who graduated from for-profit colleges found that their job options were limited. Many students had a hard time transferring their credits from for-profit colleges, and the industry experienced higher-than-average student loan defaults, according to The Student Loan Report.
As the economy continues to improve, fewer Americans are looking to return to college. Plus, for-profit schools now have to compete with certain nonprofit schools offering online degrees, which don’t carry the same stigma.
Additionally, enrollment continues to lag in spite of the Trump administration’s perceived impact on the industry. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hired several senior policy advisors that used to work in the for-profit sector. And she blocked regulations President Obama put in place to provide increased protections for students. Although recently, Devos did extend the deadline for students of a for-profit law school that closed in 2017 to apply for student loan forgiveness.
Faced with a future that is increasingly unclear, many schools are choosing to pivot and seek non-profit status instead. Bridgepoint Education, a San Diego-based company that owns two for-profit schools, announced their plans to combine these schools into one nonprofit school called Ashford University.
These changes would require approval from both state and federal regulators. But if approval for nonprofit status is granted, this would mean less oversight for these schools. Several senators sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office asking them to review these conversions.
For students currently attending a for-profit college, this declining enrollment could mean even fewer options after graduation. And decreased oversight of for-profit schools could result in fewer protections for both current and former students.