25 Worst For-Profit Colleges and Universities

Nonprofit Colleges Online is, at least in part, a website that was created in the wake of much bad publicity that came to surround online education due to the exploitative and fraudulent practices of some for-profit colleges and universities which came to light after a series of investigations in 2010. These scandals, which brought much attention and scrutiny onto the nations fastest growing educational sector are now well known and documented and implicated many of the largest and well known for-profit institutions. Among those named were the University of Phoenix, Argosy University, Kaplan College, Everest College, and MedVance Institute, as well as another 10 for-profit colleges and universities. Though only a handful of schools that came under investigation were found engaging in fraudulent practices, all 15 schools were found to make “deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” during recruitment interviews. This raises serious questions, not simply about individual institutions, but about the entire sector of profit-driven education.  Can any for-profit college or university be trusted to truly put the needs of its students ahead of the profits of its shareholders?

It is true, based on the 2010 investigations, we cannot really know how widespread these kinds of practices are within the profit-driven education sector; however, a quick look at some basic publicly-available data can provide us with a simple way to assess how these institutions line up with their private-nonprofit and public counterparts. The most obvious piece of data to examine would be the net cost of attendance. The Website For Profit U claims that an associates degree awarded at a for-profit college may cost up to four times as much than a similar degree awarded at a comparable public university located in the same region, and bachelor’s degrees cost up to 20% more at for-profit colleges. Supporters of the for-profit education sector are sure to make the argument that though degrees from for-profit institutions cost the student more, they make up for that differential in costing taxpayers less. This is only partially true. As this study shows by comparing data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES.ed.gov) taxpayer costs for an associate degree are almost $4,000 higher per student in the public sector than the for-profit sector. However, the statistics also suggest that the combined costs (student and taxpayer) are approximately $16,000 per student lower at community colleges compared to their for-profit counterparts. This means, on average an associate level degree at for-profit college will cost the student $20,000 more than the same degree earned at a community college. Though on average, still higher than the costs of public colleges and universities, private-nonprofits also cost much less than their for-profit counterparts.

The higher costs associated with for-profit colleges may be justifiable if the degrees earned translated to higher earnings; however, students at for-profit institutions default on their loans at rates staggeringly higher than those of public and private-nonprofit colleges and universities. According to For Profit U, 1 in 5 students (22.7%) from for-profit colleges default on their loans within 3 years of repayment. That is compared to 7.5% of students from private non-profit colleges and 11% of students from public institutions. This statistic could suggest a number of things: perhaps graduates could not find meaningful employment after graduation, or maybe the program didn’t lead to employment that would generate the kind of income the student was promised. Perhaps the higher tuition and fees simply caused the student to take on too great a debt to be reasonably repaid. A number of factors could contribute to this statistic, but one thing is for sure, having substantially higher default rates coupled with substantially higher net costs means the higher cost is not providing greater return on the student’s investment in their education.

Lastly, by looking at a college’s graduation rates we can get a sense of how invested the school is in providing support to students and ensuring their completion of the programs they enroll in. According to For Profit U, 54% of bachelor’s degree seeking students and 63% of associate degree students enrolled in programs at for-profit companies between 2008 and 2009 left the school with no degree by 2010. When considering that these for-profit colleges spend substantially more on advertising and recruitment and even net more profits for their shareholders than they spend on instruction and support for their students, it is no wonder that such a large portion of these students are unable to complete their degrees.

By looking at these three points of data: Net Price, Default Rate, and Graduation Rate, it is clear that an underlying issue is at play in the for-profit sector and that the 15 schools implicated in the 2010 investigations are not an outlying fringe, but indicative of the wider issue. We have thus complied a ranking of the 25 worst for-profit colleges and universities using these three pieces of data as our methodology with no regard for the particular stories that came out of the GAO investigations or any other lawsuits or investigations the particular schools have been involved in. While we do make note of these in our school descriptions they do not contribute to placement within this ranking.

Worst For-Profit Colleges and Universities

#1. Schiller International University

Worst For-Profit CollegesSchiller International University is a private, for-profit university headquartered in Largo, Florida and with campuses in Paris, France, Madrid Spain, and Heidelberg, Germany.  In addition to offering associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees at it’s various campuses, Schiller also offers degree programs online through its distance learning division.  The school was founded in 1964 as a study-abroad program for Americans in Germany and has since grown to provide degrees to students from over 100 countries.

Average Net Price: $29,292
Default Rate: 22.8%
Graduation Rate: 20%

#2. Argosy University

Worst For-Profit CollegesArgosy University is a system of for-profit colleges owned by Education Management Corporation and maintains 28 campuses across the United States. Argosy also offers extensive degree options available through its online division. Argosy University was one of the 15 schools named in the GAO report following the series of investigations on fraud in recruitment practices. Argosy was not found guilty of fraud in the investigations, but was noted as having “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” in recruitment interviews. In December of 2013 EDMC agreed to pay $3.3 million in restitution and fines to settle charges with the Colorado Attorney General that Argosy University had engaged in deceptive marketing strategies, when it led students to believe that the school was working on getting its doctorate of education in counseling psychology degrees accredited by the American Psychological Association and that graduates would be eligible to be licensed psychologists in Colorado when that was not true.

Average Net Price: $31,688
Default Rate: 19.4%
Graduation Rate: 24%

#3. Stratford University

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Stratford University is a for-profit university specializing in adult education offering associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in a variety of vocational disciplines via classroom, online, or blended study.  Stratford is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia and has campuses across Virginia, Maryland and in India.  The university’s strikingly low graduation rate has earned it a top position in this ranking.

Average Net Price: $24,640
Default Rate: 13.8%
Graduation Rate: 8%

#4. Florida Career College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Florida Career College is a for-profit college headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida owned by the Corinthian Corporation.  FCC operates 11 campuses across the state of Florida as well as campuses in Phoenix,  Arizona and Houston, Texas.  FCC offers vocational programs of study in health, cosmetology, information technology, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.  The school came under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education in 2007 as part of series of investigations regarding Corinthian Corporations practices relating to student loans and debt collection.  In September of 2014 the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) filed a lawsuit against Corinthian over these practices.

Average Net Price: $41,743
Default Rate: 19.2%
Graduation Rate: 54%

#5. University of Advancing Technology

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Located in Tempe, Arizona, The University of Advancing Technology is a for-profit higher education institution offering programs of study in multiple areas of technology.  UAT was founded in 1983 and has a history of offering vocational programs of study, but is not a vocational school.  UAT is a university that emphasizes an integration of technology into general education requirements.  The university offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees on campus and online.

Average Net Price: $29,800
Default Rate: 12.2%
Graduation Rate: 24%

#6. Antonelli College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Established in 1947 as the Gebhardt Art School, Antonelli College is a career training school located in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The school maintained a visual art focus up through the 1980 when it took on its current name and began offering other career oriented programs of study.  Today, Antonelli College offers programs in Allied Health, Business and Information Technology, and Art at campuses in Ohio, Mississippi, and Online. 

Average Net Price: $21,579
Default Rates: 22.8%
Graduation Rates: 30%

#7. Le Cordon Bleu

Le Cordon BleuIs the world’s largest hospitality education institution, with over 50 schools on five continents serving 20,000 students annually. Back in 2013, Le Cordon Bleu paid $40 million in order to settle a class-action lawsuit brought on by former students claiming recruiters oversold the benefits of a Le Cordon Bleu diploma, leaving them with exorbitant amounts of student loans and low-paying industry jobs.

Average Net Price: $19,200
Default Rate: 17%
Graduation Rate: 60%

#8. Sanford-Brown College

Sanford-Brown College

Was a division of the Career Education Corporation, a for-profit higher education organization. In 2015 Sanford-Brown officially closed all of its campuses. The real controversy came about when a settlement agreement was reached with the New York Attorney General and CEC agreed to establish a $9.25 million restitution fund for students who were misled from the 2009 through 2012 school years.

Average Net Price: $17, 637
Default Rate: 21%
Graduation Rate: 33%

#9. Academy of Art University

Worst For-Profit Colleges

A for-profit university in San Francisco, California, Academy of Art University is the largest privately owned art and design school in the United States and is one of the largest property owners in San Francisco, with the main campus located on New Montgomery Street in the South Market district.  The school offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines.

Average Net Price: $26,905
Default Rate: 15.5%
Graduation Rate: 32%

#10. Art Institute of Colorado

Worst For-Profit Colleges

The Art Institute of Colorado is a for-profit university owned by the Education Management Corporation which is owned by Goldman Sachs.  The school was founded in 1952 as a private college for arts and crafts and now offers a wide variety of degrees and diplomas in various artistic disciplines.  The school came under scrutiny in 2013 by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools for concerns related to student success, including retention and attrition.  

Net Price: $26,001
Default Rate: 18.7%
Graduation: 38%

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#11. Platt College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Located in Aurora, Colorado, Platt College is small college offering only one degree program, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  The school serves students from across the Denver metropolitan area.  According to Platt College’s website they are a nursing college dedicated first to student success.  However, due to the extremely high net price of their degree, students would be wise to explore similar degree programs offered at other colleges and universities in the Denver Metro area.

Net Price: $37,350
Default Rate: 11.7%
Graduation Rate: 47%

#12. New England Institute of Art

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Located in Brookline, Massachusetts, the New England Institute of Art is a for-profit college and one of the 45 Art Institutes in the United States owned by Education Management Corporation which is owned by Goldman Sachs.  The school offers nine Bachelor of Science degrees and three Associate of Science degrees as well as a variety of certificate programs.  

Net Price: $28,432
Default Rate: 14.7%
Graduation Rate: 35%

#13. Miami Intl. University of Art and Design

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Also a member of the Art Institutes corporate education system owned by Education Management Corporation and Goldman Sachs, Miami International University offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s level degree programs in a variety of art disciplines.

Net Price: $24,996
Default Rate: 20.5%
Graduation Rate: 40%

#14. Ashford College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

A further (continuing) education college located in Ashford, Kent in the UK, Ashford College is a for-profit college run as part of the Hadlow College Group.  The school was founded in 2014 as a result of the split of K College after the leadership of K College ran up over over £16 million of debt.

Average Net Price: $20,266
Default Rate: 15.3%
Graduation Rate: 21%

#15. Intl. Academy of Design and Technology

Worst For-Profit Colleges

The International Academy of Design and Technology is a for-profit media arts college with multiple braces across the United States.  It is owned by Career Education Corporation.  Career Education Corporation has been at the center of a number of civil, and class action lawsuits as well as for-profit education scandals which have included issues of registrations fraud, improper credit transfers, and false pretense.

Average Net Price: $17,412
Default Rate: 25.6%
Graduation Rate: 36%

#16. Southwest University of Visual ArtsWorst For-Profit Colleges

Southwest University of Visual Arts is a for-profit art college headquartered in Tucson, Arizona.  SUVA offers bachelor’s degrees in a variety of art disciplines as well as Master of Fine Arts degrees in photography, painting and drawing, and motion arts.  Though SUVA has a much higher than average graduation rate, its extremely high average net price places it on our list of schools that students would be wise to steer clear of.

Average Net Price: $47,148
Default Rate: 19.7%
Graduation Rate: 84%

#17. Berkeley College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Berkeley College is a for-profit college with nine locations serving New York and New Jersey  that specializes in business and professional studies.  The College offers associate, and bachelor’s degrees in business administration, in a variety of business and professional studies disciplines as well as liberal arts courses in humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and English and foreign languages.

Average Net Price: $25,545
Default Rate: 14.1%
Graduation Rate: 31%

#18. DeVry University

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Decry University is a division of DeVry Education Group, a for-profit education organization that is the parent organization of Keller Graduate School of Management, Ross University, American University of the Caribbean, Carrington College, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Becker Professional Review and DeVry Brasil.  Headquartered in Downers Grove, Illinois DeVry University also has locations across the country. DeVry has come under increasing scrutiny from the US government, state Attorneys General in Illinois and Massachusetts, the Pew Foundation, and the Mississippi Center for Justice following evidence of deceptive recruiting of students and due to its high dropout rate, extremely high tuition, and $6.3 million dollar CEO salary.

Average Net Price: $19,771
Default Rate: 18.5%
Graduation Rate: 29%
73.7

#19. Brooks Institute

Brooks institute

Located in Santa Barbara, California the Brooks Institute is a visual arts college offering four undergraduate majors and one graduate program.  Brooks Institute is owned by Career Education Corporation which has been under scrutiny for fraud and various issues of noncompliance since 2005.  In 2014 Career Education Corporation was under investigation by ore than a dozen states Attorneys General.  In 2014 the NY Times reported that if the Obama Administrations’s “gainful employment” proposals were to go into effect, 39% of CEC’s programs would fail student loan debt to earnings measurements, making them ineligible for federal funds.

Average Net Price: $26,833
Default Rate: 12.6%
Graduation Rate: 37%

#20. Grand Canyon University

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Grand Canyon University is a for-profit, Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The school was founded in 1949 as a non-profit college and was later purchased by Grand Canyon Education, Incorporated.  The school offers campus based and online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Average Net Price:  $20,084
Default Rate: 15.8%
Graduation Rate: 30%

#21. LIM College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

LIM College is a for-profit college located in Manhattan, New York, specializing in the business aspects of the fashion industry.  LIM offers programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.  The college was founded in 1939 as the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising at the request of retailers who wanted a school that would teach students about the fashion business and merchandising.

Average Net Price: $34,225
Default Rate: 8.4%
Graduation Rate: 48%

#22. Fountainhead College of Technology

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Located in Knoxville, Tennessee, Fountainhead College of Technology is a for-profit college on campus and online programs of study leading to associate and bachelor’s degrees in a variety of technological areas of study.  Though the school has among the best graduation rates we have seen we have given bonus points for their extraordinarily low retention rate with approximately 80% of first year students leaving the school within the year.

Average Net Price: $25.922
Default Rate: 17.4%
Graduation Rate: 90% with 20% Retention Rate

#23. Westwood College

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Westwood College is for-profit college with 17 campuses located throughout California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Texas and Virginia also offering online learning options.  Westwood is owned by Alta Colleges, Incorporated and has been the subject of lawsuits alleging that it misleads students and publishes false statistics.

Average Net Price: $26,694
Default Rate: 17.65
Graduation Rate: 55%

#24. School of Visual Arts

Worst For-Profit Colleges

School of Visual Arts is a for-profit art and design college located in Manhattan, New York.  The college was founded in 1947 as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School and has since grown to offer 11 undergraduate and 22 graduate degree programs.  Though the school has a high graduation rate and low default rate, its extremely high average net price earns its placement in our ranking of worst for-profit colleges and universities.

Average Net Price: $42,207
Default Rate: 7.1%
Graduation Rate: 65%

#25. Full Sail University

Worst For-Profit Colleges

Full Sail University is a for-profit university located in Winter Park, Florida offering associate, bachelor’s, master’s degree programs primarily focused on audio, film, and media production, video game design, animation, and other studies related to the media and entertainment industries.  An education at Full Sail is highly coveted by many looking to enter the entertainment and media, however many graduates have found that their education does provide them with an in into the industry and their degrees often prove to not be worth the high dollar cost.

Net Price: $29,790
Default Rate: 19.9%
Graduation Rate: 78%

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Honorable Mentions

University of Phoenix

Worst For-Profit Colleges

 The University of Phoenix is a for-profit university headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona with over 100 campuses worldwide and one of the largest education corporations in the world.  At its peak UOPX enrolled over 600,000 students but has dropped to 227,000 and has closed more than 100 campuses.  The recent decline is attributed to operational changes following criticism of high debt loads and low job prospects for its students.  The University of Phoenix has been the target of governmental lawsuits and investigations since 2003 many of which are still pending to this day.  

Because UOPX does not have its Average Net Price, Default Rate and Graduation Rate data publicly available, we are unable to place them within this ranking.  However, we felt the lack of data alone merits them an honorable mention.

Average Net Price: N/A
Default Rate:
N/A
Graduation Rate: 
N/A

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