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Study: For-Profits Match Similar Nonprofits in Learning Results

January 11, 2017

Students at for-profit institutions achieve learning results that are similar to those of students who attend comparable nonprofit colleges, according to a new study by the Council for Aid to Education. The study was funded by the for-profits that participated in the research. (Note: This paragraph has been changed from a previous version to add new information about the study’s funding source.)

The council used its Collegiate Learning Assessment to measure learning outcomes in six areas for 624 students from four for-profit higher education systems, which the study does not name, and then compared the scores with those of a matched group of students from 20 unnamed public and private institutions that were selected because they were similar to the for-profits on key measures related to academic performance. The CLA aims to show how students' learning has grown on average between when they entered and when they graduated from an institution.

"In all six comparisons, students at proprietary institutions outperformed the students at the nonproprietary comparison institutions," the study said. "However, in all but one case, the difference in mean scores is too small to be considered statistically significant." Students from the for-profits outperformed their peers at nonprofits to a statistically significant degree on the performance task section, which includes measurements of problem solving and writing.

On average, the students in the sample of for-profit attendees were older and more likely to graduate than those at the comparison nonprofits. "It is possible that some of the above findings could be attributed to one or both of these factors," the study said. "However, if age or graduation rate had a strong effect on CLA+ performance, one would expect that it would influence all three outcomes and not just seniors’ Performance Task scores."

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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