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Ask The Ed Reporters: Why Do Students Finish Degrees At For-Profit Colleges Faster?

On our post about for-profit colleges, commenter Slowlightening asks:

Students can finish degrees faster at for-profit institutes [than at community colleges, as The Atlantic writes]. Why doesn’t the article ask why that is? Is it because classes are held at better hours? Or is it because classes require significantly less work? Why doesn’t the article talk about how much these for profits have donated in campaign money and to whom? Many of the recipients of those donations are now lobbying the federal government to soften its approach to for-profits [reports ProPublica; above links inserted by StateImpact].

Valid questions, all. They’re questions supporters of for-profit colleges spent $8.1 million to have D.C. lobbyists answer in 2010, reports The Huffington Post. (More on that after the jump.)

Several sources seem to come up with the same basic conclusion: In general, students enrolled in for-profit colleges are more likely to be enrolled full-time than at public community colleges.

In addition, federal data seem to show a focus among for-profit colleges on certificates requiring less time to complete than public institutions:

  • Public colleges award a higher percentage of associates degrees (59 percent of subbaccalaureate degrees awarded) than private, for-profit colleges (27 percent of subbaccalaureate degrees).
  • For-profit colleges, by contrast, award a higher percentage of certificates that require between one and two years to complete (34 percent of subbaccalaureate degrees) than public colleges (15 percent of subbaccalaureate degrees).

Individual course lengths can be shorter, too. Undercover students the GAO employed for the report cited in our initial post to investigate the for-profit, online colleges were enrolled in individual courses “ranging in length from 4 weeks to 11 weeks,” the report says.

But whether the student is enrolled at a two-year or four-year program seems to make a difference — not only on when, but whether the student completes her degree.

From EdTrust:

Among first-time, full-time, bachelor’s degree-seeking students who enroll at for-profit institutions, only 22 percent earn degrees from those institutions within six years. By contrast, students at public and private nonprofit colleges and universities graduate at rates two to three times higher — 55 and 65 percent, respectively…

The graduation rates at two-year and less than two-year for-profit colleges are better. At two-year for-profits, 60 percent of students earn an associate’s degree or certificate within three years. At less than two-year for-profits, 66 percent earn a credential within three years. These completion rates are considerably higher than the 22 percent rate at public community colleges.

What do we make of all this? Our initial post brings together some insights.

As to the commenter’s point about campaign money, HuffPo reports:

Overall, the industry spent more than $8.1 million on lobbying in 2010, up from $3.3 million in 2009, according to a Huffington Post analysis of lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics… In addition, campaign spending from the industry’s political action committees and executives increased to more than $2 million from $1.1 million between the 2008 and 2010 election cycles…

The industry’s political action committees and executives spent nearly twice as much on Democrats as on Republicans.

Also from The Huffington Postthis chart showing which for-profit universities have led this recent lobbying push.

ProPublica writes the effort to rally congress to for-profit colleges’ aid has come after threats from Capitol Hill to tighten rules about which institutions can accept financial aid.

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