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For-Profit Free Fall Continues, U.S. Data Show

June 6, 2018

The number of career colleges and the number of credentials they award have dropped by roughly 20 percent in the last four years, new data from the U.S. Education Department show.

An annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that there were 2,791 for-profit colleges eligible to award federal financial aid in 2017-18, compared to 2,899 the year before and 3,436 in 2014-15, as previous versions of the reports showed. All told that represents a drop of 18.8 percent in the number of such colleges, which have seen their enrollments drop significantly amid an economic recovery (which typically hurts the enrollment of career-focused colleges), intensive regulatory scrutiny from the Obama administration and declining public confidence.

During the same time period, the number of public and private nonprofit colleges remained largely static, varying by fewer than 20 each. There were 1,973 public colleges and 1,878 private nonprofit colleges in 2017-18, according to the federal data.

An even larger proportional decline occurred in the number of credentials offered by colleges in the sector, the federal report shows. From 2012-13 to 2016-17, while the overall number of higher education credentials climbed by 1.2 percent, the number conferred by for-profit institutions fell by 29.2 percent, from 518,956 to 367,529.

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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