Study shows high profits, low grad rates at private, for-profit colleges

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For years now, true believers in the unrestricted Free Market God — almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, and, of course, self-correcting (ahem) — have griped about public higher education. The graduation rates are too low at public colleges, they say;  public universities are wasteful; let private, for-profit schools handle higher education, since no government can do anything as well, or as efficiently, as private enterprise. I’m willing to bet that a new study from The Education Trust won’t make the free-market fundamentalists shut up, but it should.

The study, titled “Subprime Opportunity: High Dividends, Low Baccalaureates at For-profit Colleges,” reveals that private for-profits, such as the University of Phoenix or DeVry University, are very efficient indeed. Trouble is, what they’re very efficient at is raking in federal education funding; but when it comes to producing actual graduates, well, not so much. Here’s a for-instance quote from the report: “The University of Phoenix ... collected more than $1 billion in federal Pell Grant aid last year. In 2008, however, its six-year graduation rate was just 9 percent.” Nine percent. Other colleges had higher graduation rates, all the way up to DeVry’s whopping 31 percent rate. As Chris Fitzsimon at NC PolicyWatch writes, “It clearly is not about providing an education in the for-profit university world; it is about making money whether kids learn anything or not. ... No public university in the state has numbers anywhere near this pathetic.” A word to the wiseguy.

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