Divided We Learn

Seeking a fresh start, battered for-profit colleges give themselves a new name

Rebranding highlights a three-year strategy to reverse dramatic enrollment declines

In this April 28, 2015 file photo, students wait outside Everest College in Industry, Calif., hoping to get their transcripts and information on loan forgiveness and transferring credits to other schools. On Thursday, March 24, 2016, a San Francisco Superior Court judge awarded the state a nearly $1.2 billion default judgment against Corinthian Colleges Inc., the bankrupt operator of for-profit colleges.

ORLANDO, Fla. – For the second time in less than a decade, the industry association representing colleges and universities has changed its name, part of a three-year plan to reverse dramatic enrollment declines that have resulted in closings and bankruptcies.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities will become Career Education Colleges and Universities, or CECU, it announced at its annual convention here.

The new group, which has lost several of its for-profit members, will also welcome nonprofit institutions for the first time.

Its three-year strategy will focus on the nation’s need to increase the proportion of the population with higher educations—especially the kind employers say they want.

The CECU will emphasize the number of credentials its members award: nearly two million over the last five years, including increasingly popular certificates, it says. Their goal: to produce five million more in the next decade.

There’s a growing market for such a service. The number of students aged 25 to 35 will rise 20 percent by 2022, and the number over 35 will increase 23 percent, the federal government estimates. So will the proportion who are part time. All are key markets for these schools.

“We stand ready to do our part for America’s economic future, one student at a time,” Steve Gunderson, a former Republican congressman who is now CECU’s president and CEO, told the convention.

Previously known as the Career College Association, the organization last changed its name in 2010.

Enrollment at for-profit schools has plummeted by 26 percent since its peak in 2009. Several have closed. Corinthian Colleges, parent of Everest and other chains that once enrolled more than 77,000 students, declared bankruptcy last year. Career Education Corporation is closing its 14 Sanford-Brown campuses and its 16 Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools. Westwood College has stopped accepting new students. The parent company of the Art Institute is shuttering 18 campuses.*

Annual revenues have collectively fallen by $2.3 billion since 2010, according to CECU itself. Apollo Education Group, parent of the University of Phoenix, was sold to a group of investors for slightly more than a tenth of what it was once worth.

Two big companies, Kaplan and DeVry, quit APSCU last year. So have Education Management Corporation and ITT Tech. The University of Phoenix never joined.

Under the turnaround plan, CECU and its members will reach out to Democrats, who have often been critical of for-profit institutions’ low graduation rates and high rates of debt and student loan defaults, and will increase funding for its political action committee.

CECU will promote the idea that for-profit colleges are worth the money, and that their graduates earn more than people without higher educations.

For-profit graduates saw increases in earnings of about 10 percent, a Brookings Institution report found, or about 4 percent per year of the 2.6 years it takes them to complete their educations. That’s much lower than for those who go to other kinds of colleges and universities, the report said. People with degrees from community colleges, for instance, earn 12 percent per year more than they would without them.

But the Brookings authors also pointed out that other kinds of schools don’t necessarily cater to the kind of older, working, and part-time students the for-profits do.

The new association will lobby for Pell Grants—federal direct grants for low-income students—to be made available for study in the summers, rather than only during the traditional academic year. That’s a proposal also backed by the Obama administration and key members of Congress in a rare bipartisan consensus.

And it will push for the adoption of recommendations to reduce the number of regulations on all colleges and universities. The recommendations were produced by a task force made up exclusively of university and college presidents and officers of their industry associations, and its report was produced by the American Council on Education, the primary higher-education lobbying group.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

*An earlier version of this story said the Art Institute was closing 15 campuses. Three more have stopped accepting students and will eventually close.

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