Atlanta Business Chroncile: For-profit education a growing presence

Dave Williams

Friday, October 4, 2013, 2:11pm EDT

America’s for-profit colleges and universities are playing an increasingly important role in supplying higher education that meets workforce demands, a leader in the field said in Atlanta this week.

“Our schools really have their ears to the ground as to what the market is,” Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities told Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Our sector is responsive to the needs partly because we have the flexibility to do it.”

Gunderson represented Wisconsin in Congress during the 1980s and ‘90s. He said when he arrived in Washington, only about 4 percent of American college students were enrolled in a for-profit school.
That percentage has risen since then to 14 percent, Gunderson said.

In Georgia, for-profit colleges and universities make up 44 percent of total post-secondary institutions. Atlanta alone has more than 40 for-profits.

Gunderson said a key reason for the growth in popularity of for-profit colleges and universities is the increasing number of students attending college as adults – many in mid-career ­– rather than directly from high school.

“An awful lot more people are going to school as adults,” he said. “With limited public resources, the viability of public schools to respond to that growth in demand isn’t there.”

The numbers in Georgia confirm Gunderson’s description of students most likely to attend a for-profit school.

According to the association, 72 percent are 25 or older. Fifty-one percent are African-Americans.
During the 2010-2011 school year, 10,622 students earned certificates, while 7,701 earned degrees, numbers that point to the for-profits’ emphasis on career training.

Indeed, for-profit schools that year made up 49 percent of degrees and certificates awarded in Georgia to graduates of courses in personal and culinary services, and 29 percent of awards to students who completed courses in health care and related professions.

Gunderson said a big advantage for students of for-profits is that they can complete their education faster than in traditional colleges and universities. It takes just 18 months to get an associate’s degree from a for-profit and three years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“We go year-round,” Gunderson said. “It’s a different mind-set and culture.”

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