In addition to hiring a horde of lobbyists to help it fend of new regulations, the for-profit college industry — composed of schools like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University — has launched a public relations offensive, in an attempt to bolster its image with the public. In response to a proposed regulation having to do with “gainful employment” — which would cause the schools to lose their access to public money if their graduates fail to meet a certain debt-to-income ratio or have high rates of student loan default — the for-profit colleges have released ads emphasizing the jobs that their graduates go on to fill.
Of particular focus for the for-profits is the claim that graduates are entering the heath care workforce. Here’s an example, from an ad by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities:
America’s 3,000 private sector schools employ 250,000 people and educate 3.2 million students each year. Last year, nearly 60 percent of new allied health care professionals earned their degrees from our schools.
However, as a new report from CAP’s Julie Morgan and Ellen-Marie Whelan notes, these numbers only add up if you take into account that the for-profits are training “health care” workers for positions that are not in critical demand, such as massage therapy:
For-profit colleges are graduating students in health care fields but generally not the fields at the top of the nation’s growing health care needs. For-profit schools are making a contribution to the health care workforce but much of that contribution is concentrated in one educational program: medical assisting. The second-largest educational program in health care at for-profit schools is massage therapy, which does not correspond to any significant workforce need. For-profit colleges make a modest contribution in other areas such as registered nursing and licensed practical nursing. Clearly, traditional not-for-profit colleges are doing the bulk of the work in addressing our projected health care workforce needs.
The problem here is that the sort of jobs for which for-profit schools are preparing students tend to be lower-paying, rendering students incapable of paying back the student loans that they take out. Since many of those loans are federal, it’s the government that ends up on the short end of the financial stick, in addition to the student who paid a small fortune for a degree that doesn’t lead to a high-paying job. Many for-profits make as much as 90 percent of their revenue from the federal government.
At the moment, just 11 percent of higher education students attend for-profit schools, yet they receive 26 percent of total federal student aid and account for 43 percent of total student loan defaults. The schools have profit margins as high as 30 percent and pay their executives far more than their non-profit and public counterparts, while providing what, at the moment, is a product that is not always living up to its billing.