Some for-profit colleges reported increased profitability and modest enrollment gains as the economy crashed in the second quarter, but it’s still not clear whether the current pandemic and recession will turn around the fortunes of a sector that had been struggling.
A mixed picture is emerging of how for-profit colleges and the publicly traded companies that manage them have so far been impacted by the pandemic.
Past economic downturns significantly boosted enrollment at for-profit colleges, but if a countercyclical enrollment explosion is on the way, it hasn’t materialized across the board yet.
Several for-profit colleges reported modest year-over-year enrollment increases in the second quarters of their fiscal years, which generally ran between March and June. The companies that own them boosted profitability, sometimes through careful cost management. That’s important, because previously released data showed no sign of enrollment growth across all institutions in the spring of 2020.
Given how quickly the economic downturn happened, there may not be much impact on enrollment at for-profit higher education institutions for a few months, said Jeff Silber, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets Research. In the short term, lower-income students may be more worried about putting food on the table than completing Economics 101, he said.