Three Types of Colleges to Choose From

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

When it comes to choosing a college to enter, you essentially have three options.

1) Public

2) Private, nonprofit

3) Private, for-profit

A public institution is largely supported by taxpayer funds. Financial support is usually provided by the state. However the United States Service Academies and several institutions in Washington D.C. receive federal support. Community colleges often receive support from their counties and/or municipalities. Public schools are typically the least expensive colleges to attend and cost about $11,000 on average less per year than private schools (College Board 2018).

Private, non-profit institutions of higher education are not operated or funded by governments, though they often receive grants or tax reductions. Their nonprofit status means they are expected to reinvest any profits they make into their mission to educate students. According to a 2017 report by the Brookings Institution, private, non-profit schools enroll about 1/3 of all full-time equivalent college students.

Private, for-profit schools typically receive Pell Grants and federal student loans, like public institutions and private, non-profit schools. The difference is that for-profit schools are intended to make a financial profit for their investors or shareholders. Student success is less of a focus and students typically have worse outcomes in these types of institutions. Indeed, a staff report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that, "Students who attend for-profit institutions take on more educational debt, have worse labor market outcomes, and are more likely to default than students attending similarly-selective public schools."

So while there may be three possible types of schools to attend, I think the evidence is fairly strong here, students should avoid private, for-profit colleges. These schools are in decline and have earned quite a few critics in the past ten years. When conducting your college research, use Wikipedia to filter out everything except public schools or private, nonprofit institutions of higher education.


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