Do For-profit Institutions Converting to Non-profit Affect Distance Education Enrollment Numbers?

In a comment to my post on the new Digital Learning Compass report covering distance education enrollment trends for US higher education, Richard Garrett, Chief Research Officer at Eduventures and Director at The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, asked an interesting question.

I’d welcome your view on a related issue I’ve been wrestling with, namely how to treat for-profit institutions with significant numbers of online students that are now nonprofit. A number made such a conversion in the fall 2012-15 period, and more are to come (e.g. the EDMC and Kaplan announcements). In your study, did you use institutional control for the year concerned or continue to treat former for-profits as such? If the former, then I think it is worth pointing out that some of the private nonprofit growth, and for-profit decline, is due to control conversion.

With all of the news around for-profit changes, include Corinthian Colleges, ITT, Kaplan University, DeVry rebranding, I thought it would be worth addressing this question in a new post instead of just in the comments as I suspect others may have the same question.

tl;dr – There has been no material effect of these institutional control changes for the periods covered in the DL Compass report (Fall 2012 through Fall 2015).

To get a list of the major cases where for-profit institutions have successfully converted to non-profit status, I used the cases listed in Bob Shireman’s 2015 article on just this situation. While this list might not be exhaustive, it does cover the major cases from 2015 and prior – trust me, Bob would not miss any big ones given his angle. The institutions listed:

  • Herzing University and other Herzing colleges
  • Remington Colleges
  • Everglades University and Keiser University
  • Stevens-Henager College, CollegeAmerica, and California College San Diego

Of these, Herzing’s changes and most of Remington’s Colleges did not occur in time for the Fall 2015 data (thus no changes in this report).

For the remainders, the total distance education enrollment changes – for students taking exclusively online courses or at least one online course – based on these sector changes is only 425. Given the changes mentioned in the report, no significant impact on the enrollment numbers.

I do think this situation will become important in the future simply due to EDMC and Kaplan University being in the process of converting to non-profit status.

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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