Americans Favor For-Profit Higher Education

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Celinda Lake Leading Democratic Party strategist; president, Lake Research Partners, Inc.
  • Michael J. Wilson National Director of Americans for Democratic Action

A new national poll released today shows strong support for "for-profit" education in this economic decline. The poll conducted by Lake Research Partners for Americans For Democratic Action Education Fund surveyed 1,000 adults with oversamples of 500 African Americans, 500 Latino/as, and 250 lower-income whites. The poll shows that "for-profit education empowers minority groups, and does not hinder them. People believe higher education is more critical now than ever to get ahead and support for-profit education as a way to make Obama's goal of increasing college graduates possible."

Among key findings were:

  • 78% said they were convinced for-profit universities have an open enrollment policy that offers a post-high school education to many undeserved communities.
  • 81% surveyed were convinced that online for-profit colleges and universities offer students the flexibility they need to be successful and earn a college degree.
  • 74% surveyed believe for-profit colleges and universities have access to the money needed to expand and have developed the infrastructure needed to grow rapidly without lowering their educational quality.

Make no mistake, in this tough economy, "for profit" education offers the flexibility and opportunity for minorities and low-income individuals to get their college degrees. Most of these folks are already working full-time jobs...they want to get ahead but need opportunities that traditional schools don't offer.

Today, America's economic future requires the nation to combat educational inequality. Many school districts, particularly those with higher-income families, provide excellent education while many big city and rural districts suffer from substandard education. High-income families have access to high quality college preparation while low income families do not. Given that disparity, the nation must act to guarantee access to post-secondary academic and vocational education and training for all high school graduates to meet their personal needs and the needs of a 21st Century high-tech economy.

The poll shows that in American 58 percent of adults have a favorable opinion of for-profit schools, including a quarter who have a very favorable opinion. Only one-in-five has an unfavorable opinion.

The report further found that when it comes to personal progress, as well as the future of America, Americans have very little doubt about the importance of a college education - a degree is extremely important. Eight in ten Americans (82 percent) agree that the key to enhancing our economic competitiveness and capacity for innovation lies in providing every American the opportunity to afford and attend college.

In fact, competition in the field of higher education does not worry Americans, it motivates them on this issue; 69 percent have a favorable impression of for-profit institutions when they learn that more than one million students that cannot or choose not to attend a traditional or private college or university attend a for-profit school, competing with traditional schools (21 percent have an unfavorable opinion). Furthermore, 73 percent of Americans agree that for-profit colleges and universities should be allowed to grant liberal arts degrees in fields such as history, English, and political science. Only 15 percent disagree. This is true even when adults are told these degrees would be equivalent to liberal arts degrees granted at traditional state or private colleges and universities.

Opportunity and flexibility are two key factors that buttress Americans' support for for-profit colleges and universities (cost being the first). These institutions' ability to reach out to non-traditional or underserved students is more important to them than arguments that these potential students are exploited or taken advantage of - they just do not buy those arguments. Seventy-four percent of adults agree that for-profit colleges and universities can be a better option for working adults because they have more flexible schedules and programs (only 14 percent disagree). Americans understand how important a college degree is and they strongly want that opportunity for non-traditional students who cannot attend school full-time on campus or to underserved student populations who may have received a poor high school education.

In the end, while some in Washington move to restrict the number of students for-profit institutions of higher learning can serve, Americans disagree. Faced with a choice between some people who oppose for-profits and want to limit their ability to grow because they think they do not adhere to high standards and exploit some students, or some people who support for-profits because they serve an important role in helping hundreds of thousands of students receive a college education and take no taxpayer money, half (53 percent) support allowing for-profits to grow while only a third (31 percent) support limiting their growth. To view the poll, please go to