Employers Don’t Prefer For-Profit Over Community College Graduates, Reveals New Study

Posted By Terri Williams on March 2, 2016 at 10:30 am
Employers Don’t Prefer For-Profit Over Community College Graduates, Reveals New Study

For-profit colleges represent the fastest-growing sector in higher education. According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, from 1990 to 2013, enrollment in for-profit schools increased by an astronomical 565%, compared to 37% at public institutions, and 35% at private nonprofit schools.

In addition, the College Board reported the cost of tuition and fees for 2015-2016 as follows:

Higher Ed Sector Tuition and Fees
Public Two-Year In-District $3,435
Public Four-Year In-State $9,410
Public Four-Year Out-of-State $23,893
Private Nonprofit Four-Year $32,405
For-Profit $15,610


The average cost of attending a for-profit school is 4.5 times higher than the cost of a local, two-year community college.

So why are so many students flocking to for-profit schools? Perhaps graduates from these schools have a competitive edge when they graduate? New research shows, though, this is not the case.

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, hiring managers show no preference for hiring grads with for-profit college credentials compared to those with a similar degree from a public community college.

Researchers sent 9,000 fictitious resumes of recent graduates from for-profit and community colleges to online job ads in six different categories: information technology, customer service, administrative assisting, medical assisting, sales, and medical billing/office. These particular categories were chosen because both for-profit and community colleges offer a variety of programs in these areas.

The resumes were sent to job ads in 7 metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Seattle. The researchers chose these cities because they are large areas with numerous for-profit and community colleges, and they also have an abundance of job openings.

The results of the study, “Do Employers Prefer Workers Who Attend For-Profit Colleges? Evidence From a Field Experiment,” were published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

There was no discernible difference between responses to indicate that employers had a preference for graduates from for-profit schools over community college grads. In fact, there were no real differences among employers between candidates from for-profit schools and candidates with a high school diploma.

Would students who consider attending a for-profit school be better off going to a community college? It’s not a simple “yes” or “no” answer, though, because there are a variety of other factors that should be considered.

Examining the pros and cons

“The idea that you get what you pay for isn’t always true when it comes to education,” according to Aaron Michel, co-founder and CEO at PathSource. In many cases, Michel says that a more affordable community college can provide a much better education than a for-profit college. “And employers know this, which is why they don’t necessarily prefer graduates with those types of degrees,” Michel tells GoodCall.

Steven Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, agrees that most students are better off attending and graduating from a low-cost community college instead of a high-cost, for-profit college. But, he says there are exceptions.

“Students who live hours away from the closest community college may find it difficult to impossible to attend that kind of a school and so, realistically, attending a nearby or online for-profit college may be the only feasible option,” Rothberg tells GoodCall.

Popularity vs. reputation

But if for-profit schools are so much more expensive and don’t seem to be preferred over community colleges, why has attendance skyrocketed at these schools? According to Rothberg, “By and large, the reason that so many students attend for-profit instead of community colleges is that the for-profit schools have done a much better job of marketing their educational opportunities.” However, he adds, “That’s not a good enough reason for a student to spend five times as much money for similar career outcomes.”

And while for-profits may be popular with students, they may not be accepted and admired by everyone. Stephanie Kennedy, independent educational consultant and co-founder of My College Planning Team, says “For-profit schools still carry a reputation of being far more concerned about their profit than about the success of their students, and until they show strong evidence of the latter, they will be viewed by many as being predators rather than community builders.”

Kennedy also says it should be no surprise that a community college would provide an equal or even superior education. “The purpose of the community college is to serve the educational needs of the district’s high school graduates of any age,” Kennedy tells GoodCall.

A better solution?

To some experts, like Kristen Zierau, director of executive recruiting at JMJ Phillip Executive Search, the issue is not choosing between community colleges and for-profits.

Zierau says her company has many clients that only want to see candidates from top 25 schools, “But for many entry-level and mid-level corporate jobs, our clients often don’t have a preference over which college the candidate attended because to that company, experience usually trumps education.” And once a person has amassed 10 or more years of experience, she says the college becomes less important because employers are more concerned with results.

However, for new graduates, Zierau warns that the college or university the student attended could definitely affect their career advancement. “If you can get into a top-ranked college and do well, your overall career progression can take off faster as more doors are opened – but the investment is heavier,” says Zierau.

However, for students who can’t get into a top-ranked college, Zierau advises them to carefully weigh all of their options. “You need to gain insight on where you can get a good education for a good price from a college that is branded well.” But she cautions against spending $100,000 for an online degree if they can go to a local college and get a four-year degree for $50,000.

Instead, Zierau recommends utilizing a community college-public university combination, which entails going to a community college for the first 2 years and then transferring to a 4-year school. “You may be able to cut your college cost by 50% and this way, you can still end up with a degree from a well-branded top college or university.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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