The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is the organization within the federal government charged with tracking education-related data, recently released provisional data on student enrollment, tuition costs, and conferred degrees at higher education institutions.

Among the statistics that caught our eye (page 5 of the document linked above) was one that contrasted the tuition trends at non-profit, public and proprietary institutions:

Average tuition and required fees for full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates at public and nonprofit 4-year institutions increased from 2011-12 to 2013-14, while tuition and required fees decreased at for-profit 4-year institutions over the same period. After adjusting for inflation, public institutions reported a 4 percent increase (to about $7,800) for in-state students and a 3 percent increase (to approximately $17,500) for out-of-state students, and nonprofit institutions reported a 4 percent increase (to about $24,800). For-profit institutions reported average tuition and required fees of approximately $15,400 for 2013-14, which represents a decrease of 3 percent when compared with the inflation-adjusted figure from 2011-12.  

The 7-percentage point variance cited above, regarding the trends in the cost of tuition and fees at public and non-profit institutions vs. proprietary colleges, is quite significant. One of the frequent criticisms heard about the proprietary (aka “for-profit”) education sector is that tuition rates are much higher than those of public institutions. Yet, these official government statistics certainly indicate otherwise and the trend is for public and non-profit college tuition/costs to go up while proprietary college tuition/costs are going down.

What makes the data particularly compelling is that there has been no change in the status or sources of revenue of for-profit colleges. They are not taxpayer-supported. Unlike public colleges and non-profit institutions, proprietary colleges do not receive any public subsidies to offset tuition costs. (On a related note, another way these two groups of higher education providers differ is that proprietary colleges are taxpayers themselves, paying property taxes at the local level and income and other business-related taxes at the state and federal levels; non-profit colleges and universities are by definition wholly tax-exempt.)

When we launched this blog, we explained that one of the reasons was to provide additional information and perspective to the national discourse around Gainful Employment, particularly where misrepresentations or half-truths seem to be taking root as facts. Shedding some much-needed light on these most recent NCES statistics comparing trends in public, non-profit and proprietary college tuition costs serves that mission.

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