For-Profit Online Colleges Make Changes in Light of Recent Scrutiny

Private, for-profit colleges, many of which offer a substantial number of online degree programs, have been in the news a lot in the past year, and not always in a good way. The federal government stepped up scrutiny on many for-profit colleges, hoping to crack down on bad actors in the industry that were drawing in low-income students with overblown promises of finding a good job after college, only to leave them saddled with debt and struggling to find a job. A major problem was the high federal loan default rates among those who attended such schools. However, many for-proft colleges have begun making big changes as a result of the increased scrutiny, according to the Associated Press.

For instance, at the University of Phoenix, the largest online university by enrollment in the U.S., potential students will be required (starting this fall) to complete a free, three-week orientation program if they have completed fewer than 24 college credits, the article noted. If students don’t pass the orientation, they can’t continue at the university. The university’s president notes on the Phoenix website that the purpose of the orientation is to help potential students make informed decisions on whether the University of Phoenix is right for them and if they’re ready for college. Enrollment counselors at the university no longer receive special compensation based on the number of students they enroll because at many schools, this practice led to aggressive and often deceitful enrollment practices. The University of Phoenix has also kicked off its own social network, and is emphasizing new alumni association chapters, clubs, and mentorships, all to help students succeed in schools and provide networking opportunities that could lead to employment opportunities, the article indicated.

Kaplan University, another for-profit university well-known for its popular online programs, has also made some big changes. It recently instituted the Kaplan Commitment, under which potential students can try out real courses at Kaplan free for five weeks, after which the student can withdraw and pay nothing if they find Kaplan does not suit their learning style. Like the University of Phoenix, Kaplan also quit paying incentives to their recruiters based on how many students they recruit.

These changes for two of the largest for-profit institutions in the nation seem to indicate a move toward greater transparency in the realm of for-profit, online education as a result of increased federal scrutiny. For-profit universities will likely face continued scrutiny in the future, considering the large number of college students they serve. According to the Globe article, for-profit colleges serve a whopping 1 in 8 college students.

Finally, many for-profit universities will need to continue to make changes in the future. According to new "gainful employment" rule established by the U.S. Department of Education, for-profit programs that continue to produce graduates that do not earn enough to pay back their student loans will be cut off from federal aid eligibility, according to the Washington Post. As a result, for-profit schools will likely tighten admissions standards and level with students about the dangers of taking on too much debt.

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