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Today, American college graduates collectively owe a staggering $1.3 trillion in student debt — the second highest debt category in the country, following mortgage debt and outpacing automobile loans and credit card debt. Over a tenth of graduates ultimately default on their loans.

And, according to a recent report from Brookings Institution, for-profit colleges — a controversial sector of the higher education market now facing intense scrutiny — are playing a major role in the crisis.

For-profit colleges frequently serve non-traditional, disadvantaged students by offering flexible programs and degrees. But these students’ dependence on federal loans, combined with the relatively poor outcomes they see, have raised questions about how much financial support the schools should receive from the government.

The Brookings report examined two cohorts of students: one that entered college in 1996, and one that entered in 2004. The study found that for-profit borrowers default at twice the rate of public two-year borrowers, but since for-profit students are more likely to borrow, they default at four times the rate of public two-year students as a whole.

The default rate is rising: in the 1996 cohort, 23 out of every 100 for-profit students defaulted within 12 years of starting college. For the 2004 cohort, that number jumped to 43 students out of every 100.

  1. They cost more than traditional colleges. Tuition and fees for a public two-year, in-district school are $3,520, according to College Board. For a public four-year, in-state school it’s $9,650. And for a for-profit college — it’s $16,000. Still think your local four-year college is too expensive?

.2. They spend less on your education. If you’re going to spend more, you should receive a higher quality education, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, especially when their major concern is showing a profit.

  1. Their job placement statistics aren’t what they seem. Because the job placement rates for-profit colleges advertise are not always accurate. These numbers are often inflated and don’t necessarily include work found in your field. If you decided to get a for-profit education for a degree in massage therapy, but end up working at Home Depot, then that could count as a “placement.”
  2. Your school might close and credit transfers might be hard. In fact, in the fall of 2016, one of the best-known for-profit colleges, ITT Technical Institute, closed its doors. And now various other well-known for-profit schools are under investigation.

Whether you are a recent graduate or just going back to school to prepare for a career change, your best bet is community college. The quality of the education you will receive, the support, as well as the financial investment will all be designed to help you profit…not the college’s shareholders.

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