Feature image from theonion.com

ITT Technical Institute announced the complete shutdown of all its campuses Sept. 6, the next in a growing list of for-profit school closures.

The college has had a long history of fraud, and has faced lawsuits from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2014 over its “predatory lending practices,” as well as from the SEC in 2015 for lying about its financial failures to investors.  The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools even threatened to revoke ITT Tech’s accreditation earlier this year for failing to meet various standards, including:

  • “Requirements for student achievement, as measured by retention, placement, and licensure passage rate”
  • “Administrative capacity, including overall management and record-keeping”
  • “ACICS admissions and recruitment standards”

So it should come as no surprise that the Department of Education recently banned the school, whose revenue consisted 80% of Title IX federal aid, from enrolling new students who use federal funds.



ITT Tech’s closure is welcome news, but it is only one of thousands of for-profit colleges, many of which continue to commit similar fraud. But what’s more alarming is that, even when they operate within federal laws, for-profit colleges can still hurt their students in a multitude of ways. Here’s why enrolling in one may not be the best idea.


Employers look down on for-profit degrees

Here at Zen, we’ve looked into how the prestige of your alma mater may not be the be-all-end-all for finding a job. But having a for-profit college degree is another story.

A 2015 Harvard study submitted resumes that differed only by whether the school attended was public or for-profit to various employers, and concluded that having a for-profit degree reduced a job applicant’s chances.

“For business jobs that required a bachelor’s degree, an otherwise identical resume with a degree from a for-profit online school was 22 percent less likely to get a callback than a resume with a degree from a nonselective public school,” researchers said.

Current hiring manager Alison Green even goes as far as advising a job-seeker to take his University of Phoenix degree off his resume entirely, calling into question the academic merit of such a school and saying that for-profit degrees make “so many hiring managers cringe.”


For-profit college graduates pay more but earn less

Those who manage to be hired with a for-profit college degree will likely earn less than their nonprofit counterparts—a lot less.

“Of the for-profit gainful employment programs that our department could analyze, and which could be affected by our actions today, the majority — the significant majority, 72 percent, produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a 2014 White House press conference.

That these graduates earn less than even high school dropouts is reason for concern. That’s two full steps behind a college degree on the education hierarchy, behind college dropouts and high school graduates.

Despite evidence that such a degree might be even worse than no degree at all, enrolling in a for-profit college is not cheap. CollegeBoard data on published undergraduate tuition and fees showed that, for the 2015-2016 school year, the average for-profit college charged $15,610, whereas a public four-year in-state college charged $9,410.


Higher levels of debt and defaults

Student debt is an all-too-familiar problem faced by many college graduates. But for-profit college graduates are hurt the most, a 2014 government report finds.

“Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. In the most recent data, about 22 percent of student borrowers at for-profit colleges defaulted on their loans within three years, compared to 13 percent of borrowers at public colleges,” reads the report.

For-profit colleges are a big culprit behind America’s growing student debt crisis, which is not surprising given the various problems with employability. And once the mistake has been made, student loan debt is notoriously difficult to discharge.  

“That will follow them to their grave,” Georgetown University professor Anthony Carnevale tells Huffington Post. “You can default on your house, but you can’t default on a student loan.”




For-profit colleges spend more on marketing than educating

One glance at the above graph, and it is clear that for-profit colleges and nonprofit colleges have very different priorities.

Although universities are often described as research institutions established to further the common good, for-profit colleges spent a whopping $8 per student on research and public service in the 2008-2009 school year. Focusing solely on creating job-ready graduates can be a perfectly reasonable goal, but the fact that the average for-profit college only spent $2,659 on instruction per studenta mere fraction of what public institutions spent—makes that an unlikely scenario. The $9,101 expense that stands out? That figure includes exorbitant executive salaries.

Evidence shows that many of these colleges don’t lack fundsthey just misuse them. The University of Phoenix even held the title of Google’s biggest advertiser for over a month in 2012, spending about $380,000 every single day. The top 25 list of advertisers that year also included Devry and ITT Educational Services Inc.

For an example of a for-profit college advertisement, check out this fearmongering ITT Tech commercial.


Lower graduate and faculty satisfaction

Horror stories about for-profit degrees abound, including that of recent (now defunct) Corinthian Colleges graduate Rosalyn Harris, who can’t find employment other than an unrelated minimum wage job and tells CNN her degree is worthless.

“My sole purpose of going to school was bettering my life for me and my son,” she said. “But now I wish I had never gone.”

Harris is in good company. Based on interviews with over 30,000 graduates, a 2015 Gallup-Purdue index report found that 52% of public college alums “strongly agree” that their education was worth it, compared to 47% of private nonprofit school graduates and a mere 26% of for-profit college graduates.

For-profit college faculty echo the same disappointments. In an anonymous letter, an adjunct professor at such a school details how insufferable the job often is.

“I suffer the restlessness of nearly no academic freedom whatsoever,” the adjunct writes. “There is absolutely no admissions requirement beyond a GED. As a business seeking profits no potential customer is turned away, so long as the checks clear all are welcome.”



It would be false to say that for-profit colleges don’t serve an important, albeit niche, role in training its students for the workforce. They can be effective mediums for non-traditional students, such as those who are older or who need flexibility, to receive an education.

However, more often than not, a public, nonprofit school would be the better option. The drawbacks of for-profit schools, the above of which are only a few of many, should be enough to make any prospective student reconsider. ITT Tech may have shut down over its illegal practices, but its exploitation of students goes far beyond the scope of the law. Such exploitation is still rampant in the thousands of other similar colleges still operating in the U.S.