Carnegie Classification Update Shows Boom in For-Profit and Professional Education

January 18, 2011

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released an update on Tuesday of its Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education that it says shows a few shifts in the higher-education landscape: significant growth in the number of for-profit institutions, more institutions that offer professional degrees, and more traditional two-year colleges offering four-year degrees.

"The rise of the for-profit sector is not new, but with this classification update in particular, we see a pretty significant increase in that sector," said Chun-Mei Zhao, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation who directs the Carnegie Classification project. "Those areas that are in high demand are the more professional and career-focused fields."

Since 2005, when the foundation last made major revisions in its classification system and updated its list, it has added 483 institutions, for a total of 4,633. Of those new institutions, 77 percent were private, for-profit entities, while 4 percent were public and 19 percent were private, nonprofit. (The vast majority of the new for-profit institutions were two-year colleges.)

Those numbers, however, might give an inflated sense of the growth in the for-profit sector. That's because the Carnegie Foundation lists individual campuses of the Art Institute, DeVry University, ITT Technical Institute, the University of Phoenix, and other multicampus for-profit entities as separate institutions.

In Carnegie's index of new institutions, campuses from those giants are listed alongside relatively little-known institutions, like the Won Institute of Graduate Studies, which specializes in alternative medicine, and postsecondary offshoots of well-established organizations, like the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies.

Supply and Demand

Some observers of higher education were cool on the significance of the new numbers. Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of external relations at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said the Carnegie Classification update did not necessarily show a growth in demand for for-profit education.

"Sometimes things are supply driven, not demand driven," he said.

Richard H. Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, said it was no surprise that there were more for-profit institutions. "This is a worrisome thing," he said, because "many of these for-profit institutions are doing a bad job. But it is a fact that the enrollments have increased."

A breakdown of the numbers seems to reveal some notable growth in select fields. Of the new institutions, 6.2 percent were in the health professions, split between private for-profit and nonprofit. Nearly 6 percent were in business and management, almost entirely in the for-profit realm. And 5 percent were seminaries or Bible colleges, all of them not-for-profit.

The Carnegie Foundation noted that there had been a 17-percent increase in institutions that awarded more than 60 percent of their degrees in professional fields over the past five years, while there was a 5-percent drop in institutions that awarded more than 60 percent of their degrees in the liberal arts.

More two-year colleges were also offering four-year degrees, with growth since 2005 of 23 percent to 49 percent, depending on the type of institution. Mr. Ekman said that the increase in the number of institutions awarding of professional degrees and four-year degrees was also no surprise.

"A lot of bachelor's institutions are offering master's, and a small number of master's institutions are offering doctorates," he said. "There is an appetite for more education at higher levels, and that's not a bad thing."