California's For-Profit Two-Year Schools Are Kicking Community Colleges' Asses

Graduation rates reverse trends when looking at "non-traditional" students.


There is a two-year college in California with a graduation rate of 72 percent. That's a remarkable number. California's community college graduation rate is a horrifyingly awful 25.3 percent.

Pacific College, though, isn't a public school. It's one of those for-profit schools that the Obama administration has tried blame for rising college debt and loan defaults. It's a nursing school, too, so it's a good bet those graduates are able to get jobs.

Teri Sforza of the Orange County Register's watchdog team decided to drill down on graduation statistics for California colleges and discovered a surprise:

  • Four-year public and private universities did a far better job graduating students than did the for-profit four-year institutions . Private universities graduated 72.9 percent of students after six years; public universities graduated 65.1 percent; and for-profits graduated 28.4 percent.
  • It was just the opposite for the local two-year schools, however — with for-profit schools out-performing their public counterparts on the graduation measure. Two-year public colleges in California graduated 25.3 percent of students after three years; while two-year, for-profits graduated 65 percent.

So, why are the numbers this way? California's community college system is a disaster. It's heavily subsidized and cheap with no entry barriers. This may sound like a dream to those with no knowledge of economics (and those folks are certainly in abundance), but the reality is that California's declining revenue has made it impossible for the state to keep up with demand, resulting in lengthy waiting lists for training for high-demand fields. Yes, a for-profit school is more expensive than a community college, but that math breaks down if the months of time lost waiting to get into classes is factored in. Then there are the thousands of folks who simply lack the aptitude for higher education, and we all get to subsidize this journey of unfortunate self-discovery. Angelo Lioudakis of Pacific College spells it out:

"Nobody has to test to be accepted into community college," Lioudakis said. "They have to test to get into our school. They have to take an entrance exam. They know what they want to be when they grow up. It costs more money to go to our school, but you will be in your career faster. There is a cost associated with that. A valuable degree should have value."

Sforza's piece talks about some other complex issues related to comparing different college systems, including the government's piss-poor method of defining what a student is for the purpose of determining graduation rates. Definitely give the story a read.

In July, Katherine Mangu-Ward reported on the Department of Education's failed effort to deny federal aid to for-profit schools by setting up various completely arbitrary success measurements.