Proprietary Schools and Their Students

By Apling, Richard N. | Journal of Higher Education, July-August 1993 | Go to article overview

Proprietary Schools and Their Students


Apling, Richard N., Journal of Higher Education


schools are small: Seventy-five percent enroll fewer than 175 students. At the same time, a few schools are quite large -- reporting enrollments as high as 12,000 students. And it is these large schools that enroll most proprietary school students: 10 percent of all schools enroll over 50 percent of the students.

Schools offering business and marketing programs and technology programs account for one-third of all proprietary schools and enroll nearly two-thirds of all enrollment. Cosmetology schools make up 40 percent of the schools and enroll about 14 percent of the students. The remaining schools offer programs ranging Introduction

Proprietary schools -- sometimes termed "private career schools" -- are for-profit institutions that offer mostly occupational training for post-high-school students. There are approximately six thousand of these schools of which four thousand are main campuses and two thousand are branches of those campuses. Overall, proprietary schools account for more than one-half of all postsecondary institutions. In the fall of 1986, proprietary schools enrolled an estimated 5 percent of all undergraduates and, according to the National Assessment of Vocational Education, 14 percent of all students enrolled in postsecondary vocational programs |22, pp. 20-21~.

Not only do proprietary schools provide a significant proportion of postsecondary occupational training, but their students receive a sizeable proportion of federal student financial aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA). By U.S. Department of Education (ED) estimates, proprietary school students receive about 30 percent (approximately $5 billion dollars) of funds for these programs. They receive about one-quarter of all Pell grants and about one-third of all Stafford loans (formally the Guaranteed Student Loan or GSL program).

Moreover, proprietary school students are more likely to default on their federal loans. Fraas |5, p. 5~ reports ED analysis of "a random sample of Stafford loan borrowers who entered repayment in FY 1985 |that~ found that 50.6 percent of proprietary school borrowers defaulted on their loans by the end of FY 1988. This compared to about a third of community college students; default rates for students at 4-year schools are considerably lower."

Given the number of proprietary schools, the proportion of students served, and especially the amount of federal aid provided to proprietary-school students and their high default rates on federally guaranteed loans,(1) it is important to understand basic information about these schools and the students who attend them. Until now information about these schools came from older studies |for example, 2, 4, 6, 8, 28~, studies examining broader issues |for example, 9, 19, 22~ and studies conducted by or for the proprietary school industry |for example, 7~.

This article provides current, nationally representative information about proprietary schools and their students. It addresses several questions about these schools and students:

* What are the general attributes of proprietary schools?

* What kinds of training do proprietary schools offer?

* Who enrolls in proprietary schools?

* How much and what types of student financial aid do proprietary school students receive?

* How much does proprietary school training cost its students?

Comparison Groups

Several comparisons are useful to put the discussion of these questions into a broader context. One comparison is among proprietary schools offering training in different occupations. Because proprietary school owners often see other proprietary schools as their chief competitors |12, p. 36~, comparisons among proprietary schools are useful. Moreover, although proprietary schools are often discussed as a distinct form of educational institution, comparisons among proprietary schools reveal that they are not homogeneous institutions but differ in important respects, such as program length and cost. …

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