The growing presence and influence of for-profit higher education internationally is worrisome and seems to be attracting less attention that it deserves. Supporters of the trend towards more for-profit universities, like to claim that this sector expands access. This may be true to some extent but access to what? For-profit higher education has the primary objective (of course) of generating profit. It is possible that for-profit universities could offer a respectable alternative to private non-profits and public institutions, yet to do so would imply significant changes to the current model, starting with more selective admissions as well as more intensive student support programs—both with significant implications for revenue. Given the anecdotes that are surfacing, it would seem that the educational product is often of dubious quality with more concern given to profits than student success— completion rates tend to low and (where government subsidized loans are available) default rates high.
In the US, only 10% of the undergraduate enrollment is in private for-profit universities yet these students account for 25% of federal loan dollars and 50% of the loan defaults. Shockingly, some of the publicly-traded college corporations receive nearly 90% of their revenue from federal student aid programs. As a result, these private business enterprises profit as a result of the considerable investment of public funds. Yet, in a recent article published in Washington Monthly ranking “America’s Worst Colleges” for-profit universities dominate their tables.