Some of the nation's largest for-profit colleges are suffering steep declines in enrollment amid growing competition, new regulation and government pressure that led to the recent collapse of one of the industry's biggest players, ITT Technical Institute.
The industry has been losing students for the last six years, but the crisis appears to be deepening with alarming speed. Some schools, in their latest corporate filings, reported a pronounced drop.
Enrollment at the University of Phoenix chain fell 22% this year, to 171,000 students, marking a 70% loss since 2010. DeVry University reported a 23% drop this year, to about 26,500. Hondros College, a chain of nursing schools, slid 14%.
Meanwhile, community colleges are reaping the benefits.
In Columbus, Ohio, Beth Kulp withdrew from ITT Tech when she heard it was in trouble. She considered other nearby for-profit colleges but feared they might close, too, so she transferred to Columbus State Community College.
"I didn't want to waste any time or money just to end up where the students at ITT ended up — with nothing," said Kulp, who is 34 and is studying to become a nurse.
For-profit colleges underwent years of rapid growth before seeing their fortunes change. With jobs more plentiful, fewer adults are going back to school, experts say. Traditional universities have lured students away with new online programs.