The Shrinking Sector

Almost 100 fewer for-profit colleges operated in 2014-15 than in 2012-13, according to federal data.

July 24, 2015
 

As enrollments tumble at for-profit colleges, the number of proprietary institutions is dwindling, too.

Data released by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics Thursday show that 3,436 for-profit colleges participated in federal financial aid programs in the just-ended academic year, down 2.6 percent, from 3,527 such institutions two years earlier, in the 2012-13 academic year.

For all the talk about the financial vulnerability of private nonprofit colleges in the wake of recent campus closures (and near closures), meanwhile, the number of such institutions actually increased marginally from 2012-13 to 2014-15, as seen in the table below. And the number of public colleges dipped by just under 1 percent.

Title IV-Eligible Institutions

  2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 % Change, 2012-13 to 2014-15
Total 7,416 7,397 7,310 -1.5%
Public 2,009 2,008 1,991 -0.9%
Private Nonprofit 1,880 1,892 1,883 0.2%
For-Profit 3,527 3,497 3,436 -2.6%

Most of the decline among for-profit institutions occurred in four-year institutions (from 790 to 738) and two-year institutions (1,042 to 965), while the number of fewer-than-two-year campuses rose, to 1,733 from 1,695.

The erosion of for-profit campuses is not surprising, given the various forces -- regulatory and financial -- that have been buffeting the sector.

The NCES report also provides data on enrollments, which parallel those already reported in recent months by the National Student Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse's more timely enrollment reports provide year-over-year comparisons each semester; the federal data, from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, provide unduplicated annual enrollments for a full academic year, in this case 2013-14 (a year earlier than the institutional numbers).

The data show that postsecondary enrollment over all dropped by 4.2 percent over two years, with undergraduate enrollment falling by 4.8 percent and graduate enrollment by 1.6 percent.

The overall numbers were skewed heavily by declines in the for-profit sector, at all degree levels, and by a 7.5 percent drop in community college enrollment from 2011-12 to 2013-14, as seen in the table below.

12-Month Unduplicated Head Count Enrollment, Title IV institutions

  2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 % Change, 2011-12 to 2013-14
Total 29,041,553 28,305,025 27,883,323 -4.2%
Undergraduate 25,205,671 24,524,988 24,058,253 -4.8%
Graduate 3,835,862 3,780,037 3,775,070 -1.6%
         
4-year        
Public 9,731,959 9,677,135 9,759,129 0.3%
Private Nonprofit 4,738,223 4,807,850 4,819,214 1.7%
For-Profit 2,509,477 2,311,768 2,159,520 -16.2%
         
2-Year        
Public 10,626,384 10,211,926 9,887,224 -7.5%
Private Nonprofit 71,279 59,869 58,637 -21.6%
For-Profit 734,955 657,232 598,676 -22.8%
         
Fewer than 2 Year      
Public 91,041 84,307 73,975 -23.1%
Private 20,869 17,620 17,221 -21.2%
For-Profit 517,446 477,318 459,727 -12.6%

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