Last week, critics of for-profit colleges rejoiced at the news that University of Phoenix's enrollment numbers have dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last five years. Revenues are down 14 percent, and last year the institution shut down 115 of its physical locations and laid off 800 employees. The university's owners announced it will relocate staff from its San Francisco office in a consolidation effort.
The University of Phoenix is the largest for-profit university in the U.S. For-profit educations are mistrusted and harshly criticized for charging prices higher than those of public institutions, yet providing lackluster outcomes for their students. Worse are the reports about their questionable marketing and recruiting practices including reports of recruiters and admission officers misleading students. A lawsuit against Premier Education Group by a former employee alleged that its for-profit schools falsified records to keep federal money coming in.
Is the end near for the University of Phoenix and its for-profit brethren? Likely not. Even though for-profit colleges across the country have seen a slight drop in students in the past few years, enrollment at these schools is still quite high relative to what it was decades ago. Consider that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate enrollment at private for-profit colleges increased by 634 percent between 1990 and 2012. In contrast, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment at for-profit four-year programs dropped by 9.7 percent from 2012 to 2013, and by just 0.4 percent from 2013 to 2014.