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The State of For-Profit Colleges

January 29, 2019
Student Loans

For-profit colleges are big business, primarily funded by taxpayers. Many deliver poor instructional quality at high cost, causing a high proportion of students to drop out. Even for those students who do graduate, gainful employment in the field that they trained for is frequently elusive. Both non-completers and graduates bear high burdens of debt relative to their post college earnings and default on that debt in large numbers relative to those students who attended public and private non-profit colleges.

Interactive Map


Many for-profit students are nontraditional students, making sacrifices and struggling to manage family and work obligations to make better lives for their families. For-profit colleges target them with aggressive marketing, persuading them to invest heavily in the future with promises of successful careers and financial stability that ultimately do not materialize. In most states, for-profit colleges disproportionately enroll low-income individuals, African Americans and women, increasing the wealth gap of these populations.

This Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) analysis updates our inaugural State of For-profits project (December 2017) with data from the Fall 2018 release of College Scorecard by the Department of Education. With certain exceptions described in the State of For-profit Colleges Methodology and Data Tables (PDF), the scroll-over map shows for each state:

  • Total undergraduate enrollment at all higher education institutions,
  • Total undergraduate enrollment at all for-profit colleges,
  • The three largest for-profit colleges based on undergraduate enrollment.

The printable fact sheet that is linked to each state provides statistics on the disproportionate impact of for-profit harms on low-income students, African Americans and women in that state. All data shown are for Title IV primarily undergraduate institutions. Note that many large online and/or multibranch for‐profit institutions aggregate data for students residing in other states under the state of their national or regional "home." This can result in the appearance of very large for‐profit enrollment in some states relative to total undergraduate enrollment size (Arizona for example).

This school was caution flagged by the GI Bill Comparison Tool, indicating that the VA or another federal agency like the Department of Education or Department of Defense has applied increased regulatory or legal scrutiny to a program of education and that potential students should pay attention to and consider this flag before enrolling in a program of education. View an explanation of caution flags and the specific reason this school was flagged can be found in this database which is regularly updated. Note that this school was flagged as of the December 27th, 2018 version of this data.

Acknowledgements: The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) acknowledges generous support for this project from the Prudential Foundation.