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Colorado’s For-Profit Colleges Leave Students in Debt and Without Degrees at High Rates, CRL Research Shows

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Ellen Harnick

Today, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) released research showing troubling outcomes at Colorado’s four-year for-profit colleges. For-profit colleges leave students with lower graduation rates, higher debt loads, and higher defaults on that debt. These difficulties fall especially heavily on students of color, who are disproportionately enrolled in for-profit colleges in Colorado.

CRL analyzed date from the U.S. Department of Education and found the following:

  • The graduation rate at Colorado’s four-year for-profit schools averaged only 26% -- only one out of four students graduate– as compared to 44% and 53% respectively for public and private four-year schools.
  • Colorado’s for-profit colleges result in students leaving school with more than $11,000 deeper in debt than public college graduates, and significantly deeper ($7,700) in federal debt than private school graduates.
  • Three years after separating from the school, 14.7% of Colorado’s for-profit students have defaulted on their student loans, and of the remaining for-profit students, only 52% have repaid any amount at all. This compares to 7.3% and 5% default rates for public and private students respectively, and 67% and 66% repayment rates for public and private students respectively
  • While 16% of all Colorado undergraduates attend for-profit colleges, 44% of African-American undergraduates attend Colorado’s for-profit colleges.

Ten for-profit campuses in Colorado were accredited by Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the failed accrediting agency of for-profit colleges, which was stripped of its authority by the U.S. Department of Education in September of 2016 due to ACICS' failure to properly address abuses at the colleges within its jurisdiction.

"Our deep dive shows that Colorado is unfortunately plagued by some of the worst of the for-profit college outcomes we see across the United States," said Ellen Harnick, director of CRL’s Western office. "It's big business, aggressively marketing to students who are often making sacrifices to invest in better futures for their families. The for-profits take these students’ federal financial aid and too often leave them in the lurch with their hopes extinguished."

"African-American students, already challenged by a huge and widening racial wealth gap, are further frustrated in their efforts to achieve financial security and professional advancement when they are induced to pay extraordinary sums of money to institutions that make promises they do not keep," Harnick continued. "We need to clean this system up now."

While the federal government has taken some steps to address problems at for-profit colleges, CRL recommends that states institute strong reforms to protect students within their borders. For example, states can require that for-profits spend more taxpayer dollars on instruction than advertising, require that programs fully prepare students for employment in their fields including eligibility for licensing, and protect students from steering to high-cost loans and other predatory lending abuses.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with a CRL spokesperson on this issue, please contact Carol Hammerstein at