Are For-Profit Colleges Threatening Not-for-Profit Colleges?

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—A lot of people have been complaining that for-profit colleges are merely diploma mills only interested in earning money and not educating students. Is this true?

That's not true, according to Frederick M. Hess, a resident scholar and director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank.

"It is a simple-minded assertion that for-profit colleges and universities are engaged in some kind of nefarious activities or substandard education," he said.

Hess acknowledges that there are some bad for-profits, but he also says the same can be said for not-for-profit institutions. He cited the book Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa which noted that a Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) study determined after freshman year and the middle of sophomore there was almost no impact on college students' abilities to think critically, to reason and to write.

Hess also claims that while some existing non-profit institutions have become complacent about delivering a quality education, for-profits take a more effective, even corporate approach.

"While they squeeze cost structure, they also rethink operational models and develop new ways to meet client needs," he said.

Some politicians have criticized the growth of for-profit institutions of higher learning. For example, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), during a June 24, 2010 hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions called "Emerging Risk? An Overview of the Federal Investment in For-Profit Education" expressed concern about for-profits.

During his opening statement he said,"The rapid growth of these for-profit institutions, compared to other institutions, is a particularly great concern and particularly sort of a risky proposition for taxpayers and for those students."

But, according to, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics an independent research group which publishes political donation data, Sen. Brown is the leading recipient of lobbying money from educational institutions. His leading campaign donor from 2007 to 2012 was Ohio State University. His ninth largest was Case Western Reserve University.