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September-October 2011

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The Impact of Gainful Employment Regulations

The growth over the last decade of the for-profit sector of higher education (also known as the proprietary sector) has been well documented. In 1999, for-profit colleges and universities enrolled approximately 629,000 students, or a little over 4 percent of the nation's 15.2 million students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). By 2009, this sector had increased to 2.2 million students, or almost 11 percent of the nation's 21 million college students (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, & Ginder, 2011). This gain in market share came at the expense of both public and private not-for-profit colleges.

With this growth has come increased scrutiny of the sector, driven in large part by the perception that at least some students attending for-profit colleges are not receiving an adequate education for the money they spend. The scrutiny has come from both the media, which has covered alleged abuses perpetrated by some of the for-profit institutions, and from government.

Donald E. Heller ( is a professor of education, senior scientist, and director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at The Pennsylvania State University. His research on postsecondary policy and finance focuses on access and opportunity for underrepresented students. In January 2012 he will become the dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University.

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