For-Profit Colleges Spend a Lot Less to Educate Students

The latest statistics about higher education are out. While the Department of Education’s annual The Condition of Education isn’t generally much of a page turner— “Just as David Foster Wallace forged a novel from the minutiae of the American tax code… some future social novelist might want to spend a few weeks poring over today’s report,” David Glenn over at the Chronicle of Higher Education writes weirdly—a few revelations stick out.

According to an article by Mary Beth Marklein in USA Today:

The average price of attendance, including tuition, books and living costs, for students enrolled full-time for a full year was highest at for-profit colleges after average grants were factored in. Students at for-profit colleges paid $30,900 on average in 2007-08, compared with $26,600 at private, non-profit colleges and $15,600 at public institutions.

For-profits spent an average $2,659 on instruction per student in 2008-09, compared with $9,418 at public colleges and $15,289 at private non-profits. They spent more per student ($9,101) than public institutions ($6,647) but less than privates ($14,118) on student services and other types of support, including administrative salaries.

Of course, this should be no surprise. Of course for-profit colleges spend less per student than other institutions; that’s how one runs a business. That’s how one generates profit. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But that’s how it works. So much of the rhetoric issued by for-profits and their advocates has to do with proprietary schools “serving the most at-risk students,” “costing taxpayers less,” or about how their “low graduation rates have to do with “the larger percentages of high-risk students we serve.”

All of this may well be true, but for-profit schools also just spend less money educating their students. This surely matters for the quality of education.

The Education Department’s report also indicated that enrollments in for-profit schools increased dramatically in the last decade. In 1999 3 percent of college students attended proprietary schools. By 2009, almost 10 percent of American students went to for-profit schools

This dramatic growth occurred at the same time, and was likely due to, the massive deregulation of for-profit colleges that took place during the Bush administration.

Check out the report here.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer