A Profile of the Enrollment Patterns and Demographic Characteristics of Undergraduates at For-Profit Institutions

By Betsy Prueter

A recent brief from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) compares enrollment and demographic characteristics of students attending for-profit institutions to students attending Title IV institutions, both public and private non-profit (non-profit). In general, for-profit institutions enroll larger proportions of Black students, older students (over the age of 24), GED recipients and female students.

Among the other key findings from the report:

  • Attendance at for-profit institutions has been increasing steadily in the last two decades.
    • The percentage of undergraduate students attending for-profit institutions more than doubled between 1995-1996 and 2011-2012; from 5% to 13% overall.
    • At four year institutions, the sector with the highest increase, enrollment of the total undergrad population went from 1% to 17%.
    • At two year institutions, enrollment increased more slowly- from 4% in ‘95-‘96 to 7% in 2011-12 and from 65% to 83% at less than two year institutions within the same time frame.
  • Demographics at for-profits varied significantly from demographics at non-profit and public institutions in the academic year 2011-2012.
    • Between 60 and 76% of undergrads who attended for-profit institutions were women. At non-profit and public institutions, by comparison, 54-57% of students were women.
    • 22-27% of students at for-profits were Black, compared to 13-16% of students at public and non-profit institutions.
    • Military students made up a larger percentage of students at for-profit institutions (12%) than they did in public and non-profit institutions (2-7%).
    • Students receiving Pell Grants and federal student loans attended for-profit institutions at higher levels than both non-profit and public institutions.
      • Overall, 64% of students at for-profits were Pell Grant recipients and 71% of students took out federal student loans.
      • By comparison, at non-profit and public institutions, between 36 and 38% of students received Pell Grants.
      • In terms of borrowing, 30% of students at public institutions received federal loans and 60% of students at non-profit institutions received loans.
    • Students who attended four-year for-profits were more likely to work full time than students at four-year public and non-profit institutions.
      • 47% of undergraduates attending 4-year for-profits worked full time. 15-33% of students at 4-year public and non-profit institutions worked full time.
      • However, half of students attending a 2-year for-profit did not work while enrolled (50-52%) compared to about a third of students attending a 2-year public or non-profit institution (32-36%).