Is your school a for-profit institution? If you're like most students at for-profit colleges, you don't know the answer.
According to a study released Monday by Public Agenda, a nonprofit that researches public policy issues, 65 percent of current students and 63 percent of alumni at for-profit colleges are not familiar with the term "for-profit college."
Employers aren't that much more informed either, with Public Agenda finding that half had no opinion about national for-profit college giants like the University of Phoenix and DeVry, and 76 percent did not know much about local for-profit schools in their area.
"I think sometimes policymakers have this idealistic vision of students sitting down with spreadsheets, comparing colleges across columns and columns of data," said Carolin Hagelskamp, research director at Public Agenda, "but the reality is that most students in this research are not really making comparisons at all. They rely on recommendations from friends and families, and hear about schools through ads or because they pass by the schools on the street."
A minority of students at the schools said they shopped around before enrolling: Thirty-nine percent of for-profit undergrads and 32 percent of alumni considered more than one college before they enrolled at their current institution, the study found.
For-profit colleges enroll 13 percent of students seeking degrees nationwide, but graduates of such schools account for 47 percent of student loan defaults, according to a U.S. Senate investigation. For-profit college graduates typically face higher student debt loads and unemployment rates, as well.
Among surveyed alumni of for-profit institutions, the Public Agenda study revealed that 37 percent think attending the college was worth it, compared to 30 percent who say it was not and 32 percent who said it remains to be seen.
Hagelskamp said, "It is certainly the case in this study that many graduates from for-profit schools put some blame on their schools for not adequately preparing them for the job market."
Current students heaped praise on their school, however, with 9 in 10 saying their college offers effective guidance and has "caring instructors." Public Agenda noted a current parallel study found that community college students are equally satisfied with their schools on these points, though they are half as likely as for-profit college students to think their school is too expensive.