Not So Gainfully Employed

by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed

Young African-American man


Students who enroll in certificate, associate and bachelor’s programs at for-profit colleges and universities generally see a decline in earnings (and typically greater debt) five or six years after attendance, compared to their earnings before enrollment, according to a study released Monday.

The study combines data from the U.S. Education Department (on enrollment of those receiving federal aid) and the Internal Revenue Service (on income levels). Information was collected on about 1.4 million students who enrolled between 2006 and 2008 — making the cohort examined quite large.

Further, the paper argues that its use of federal tax data allows “for more accurate measures of employment and earnings than the self-reported survey data used in most previous studies of the sector.” Most for-profit students are employed prior to enrollment, so comparisons are possible of pre- and post-enrollment income levels.

The research was conducted by Stephanie Riegg Cellini of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University and Nicholas Turner of the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The study was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here). The head of the primary lobbying group for for-profit colleges is questioning the methodology.

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