An influx of private for-profit colleges in Oklahoma City is leading to concerns by policymakers and higher education officials about tuition costs, recruiting tactics and the value of the degrees the institutions grant.
Since 1995, 17 new college campuses have opened in the Oklahoma City metro area — an average of one new campus per year — bringing the total number of campuses in the area to 37. The new campuses include 10 for-profit colleges. The other seven are satellite locations where institutions that were already established offer off-site courses.
Private, for-profit colleges and universities with small Oklahoma City campuses include multistate corporations such as the University of Phoenix and Vatterott College. Also known as proprietary colleges, such schools often operate out of storefronts. Spokesmen for these institutions say they are a valuable resource, offering flexibility in location and schedules that would otherwise be unavailable.
However, despite their success in Oklahoma and nationwide, for-profit colleges have drawn criticism.
In July, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, released a report that highlighted a series of failures at these schools, including a disproportionately high rate of student loan defaults.
According to the report, students at for-profit colleges represent 13.2 percent of the nation's college students. But that minority accounts for 46.8 percent of the country's student loan defaults. Nearly a quarter of all students who attend for-profit colleges default on their federal student loans within three years of leaving school.
The report criticizes the industry for a pattern of high tuition and fees. According to the report, average tuition at a for-profit school is about six times that of a comparable community college and twice as high as at a four-year public school.
The report also questioned the value of the instruction at those schools. In particular, it cites the Apollo Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix, as making heavy use of so-called directed studies, or courses in which “students pursue independent study with more minimal instruction supervision.” The report singles out the university's Oklahoma City campus as having 40 percent of its students in directed studies.
The trend of high tuition and fees holds true in Oklahoma City, where for-profit colleges tend to be considerably more expensive than their public counterparts. According to records from the National Center for Education Statistics, students who received financial aid at the University of Phoenix's Oklahoma City location paid an average net price of $20,567 during the 2010-11 academic year.
Net price is the average amount a student can expect to pay for tuition, fees, books and other expenses, after federal, state, local and institutional financial aid are factored in.
Some for-profit college students saw higher net prices. Students at Platt College's two Oklahoma City campuses paid an average net price of about $22,000 per year, while students at the college's Moore campus paid more than $27,000. Students at DeVry University's Oklahoma City campus also paid an average net price of about $27,000.
By comparison, students at the University of Oklahoma paid an average net price of just over $15,000 during the 2010-11 academic year. Oklahoma State University students paid just shy of $13,000, and University of Central Oklahoma students paid about $11,700.
The price was even lower at community colleges. Rose State College students paid an average net cost of $9,600 during the same year, while students at Oklahoma City Community College paid $7,297. Redlands Community College students saw an average net price of $4,822 — less than a quarter what University of Phoenix students paid.
Students at for-profit schools also tend to depend more heavily on student loans and other financial aid. During the 2010-11 academic year, every full-time, first-year undergraduate student at the University of Phoenix's Oklahoma City campus took out federal student loans to pay for school, with the average student taking out nearly $9,000 in loans.