For-profit universities meet students’ needs in flexibility

While for-profit have been in the news recently regarding recruiting and marketing tactics, applications, and revenues continue to rise. We asked our Zintro experts what makes for-profit universities attractive and why there so much growth in this market.

Prof-J, an adjunct professor in family and consumer science, says that for-profit universities advertise much more than non-profits. “Non-profit universities rely on alumni for gifts and donations and they don’t advertise much, if at all. For-profits spend a great deal advertising on TV, online, and other places that the population they target will see their information. They’re betting that the advertising will pay off, and it does,” he says.

Just like any business, for-profit schools have a target market that they have researched the demographics and know how to reach that particular population. For-profit universities focus mostly on the audiences that did not attend college out of high school, those who are single parents, and people who work in low-paying, unskilled jobs. “Many of these people are not skilled at research. They don’t compare schools to find which one might be the right ones for them. They don’t check the validity of the claims from these schools. And, they may not have the basic literacy skills to understand the forms they’re required to complete. So, in a way, for-profits take advantage of these students based on their lack of education,” says Prof-J.

Prof-J says that many non-profit universities offer similar programs and degrees as non-profits at much lower costs as well as additional services, such as career-counseling and remedial classes. “For-profits have to keep their customers happy. In the long run that can hurt the student, because the student may not be getting the quality of education he or she would obtain at a non-profit. Certainly, students get quality education at for-profits, but those students are the ones who research their options and make decisions based on their own needs, rather than succumbing to a recruiter’s spiel,” he says.

Further, Prof-J says that online programs are here to stay. “The convenience is a godsend to those who work and need to upgrade skills or want to change careers or just want to expand their own knowledge. Online programs reach across distances that would otherwise prevent some people from obtaining higher education, and it even supplements high school education where schools don’t have funding for language or other types of elective classes,” he says.

Ronald Gdovic, PhD, an expert in ecommerce and marketing, says that despite a recent backlash against private universities and their marketing tactics, for-profit universities continue to take market share from traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. There are a number of reasons that private universities are relevant and shall remain a viable alternative in the higher education marketplace.

“It is no secret that average US household income cannot keep up with staggering tuition increases at traditional universities. The growing disparity between income and the cost of an education is exacerbated by dwindling access to scholarships and financial aid,” notes Gdovic. “As paying for school shifts from public subsidies to individuals, lower and middle income families are hit particularly hard by this economic reality. Both parents and their children who are able to piece together a financing plan for college usually end up with a confounding amount of debt at graduation. Reality continues to drive demand for higher education away from traditional four-year and advanced degrees toward alternatives.”

Gdovic sees for-profit education at an accredited private for-profit university as viable alternative. He points out that these companies offer a tremendous opportunity to new students as well as mid-career adult learners in a number of ways. “First and foremost, is relevancy to students’ interests or career in the short term. Few individuals are disillusioned that they will have a lifelong position at a major company waiting for them at graduation,” Gdovic says. “The days of job security with steady income ending with a comfy retirement with a pension and benefits are long gone. For-profit universities recognize this paradigm shift and are generally more responsive to industry’s educational demands than public and not-for-profits. For-profit universities offer the promise of a customized curriculum teaching students skills that they will benefit from immediately. It is far easier for private schools to stay relevant without the burden of institutionalized stagnation prevalent in traditional universities.”

The second most important benefit of private universities, Gdovic says, is flexibility in scheduling. “They take a keen interest in providing their students with the tools to receive a quality education on their schedule. New students can learn at their own pace from home, for example, while they work a full-time job to pay for that education. Students get a jump start on their careers as opposed to sitting out of the workforce at a traditional four-year university. Additionally, courses are typically accelerated and focused in nine week intervals. This compact schedule further promotes flexibility to juggle life, education, and career,” he says.

For-profit universities invest substantial amounts of effort in providing their students with leading-edge classroom technology and other online resources. Asynchronous classroom discussions, for example, give students the ability to interact with faculty and classmates on their own schedule. On demand video tutorials, instant messaging, and social media are just a few emerging technologies in their arsenal of online engagement. “For-profit universities have stepped in to offer alternatives with flexibility and curriculum aligned with students’ near-term career goals. For-profit universities will remain attractive alternatives as long as they continue to be responsive to their customers” says Gdovic.

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