The proprietary education sector stands at a crossroads. Proprietary colleges and universities are key providers of postsecondary education in the United States, enrolling over 1.7 million students. However, the sector has seen its enrollment decline since its peak in 2010 due to the growing employment opportunities following the Great Recession, the heavy regulatory burdens imposed during the last six years, and the perception that education at proprietary institutions is not on par with that offered by their non-proprietary peers.
The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) believes this junction presents a critical time to explore the efficacy of proprietary institutions and to document the student learning they support. To accomplish this, CAE used their Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) to answer the following questions:
- Do students who attend proprietary institutions achieve student learning outcomes similar to comparable students who attend comparable non-proprietary institutions?
- Is there a difference in growth in learning exhibited by comparable students at proprietary versus non-proprietary institutions?
To investigate these questions, this report compares the performance of students at four proprietary higher education systems, which together make up almost one-third of students in the proprietary sector, with the performance of students at a group of 20 non-proprietary public and not-for-profit institutions selected to be similar to the proprietary institutions on key measures that are related to academic performance.
This study shows that there are no statistically significant differences between students at proprietary and non- proprietary institutions with respect to their academic outcomes, as measured by CLA+. The one exception was the scores of seniors on the Performance Task; in which case, students at proprietary institutions outperformed students at non-proprietary institutions by a small margin. The study also shows that there is no difference in growth exhibited by students in either group. The effect sizes were almost identical. Additionally, while the value- added scores were slightly better for proprietary institutions, this group difference was not statistically significant.
In short, this study suggests that students who attend proprietary institutions achieve similar learning results as students who attend comparable non-proprietary institutions.