The Career Education Corporation
, a publicly traded global giant, last year reported revenue of $1.84 billion. Roughly 80 percent came from federal loans and grants, according to BMO Capital Markets, a research and trading firm. That was up from 63 percent in 2007.
The Apollo Group
— which owns the for-profit University of Phoenix — derived 86 percent of its revenue from federal student aid last fiscal year, according to BMO. Two years earlier, it was 69 percent.
For-profit schools have proved adept at capturing Pell grants, which are a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to make higher education more affordable. The administration increased financing for Pell grants by $17 billion for 2009 and 2010 as part of its $787 billion stimulus package
Two years ago, students at for-profit trade schools received $3.2 billion in Pell grants, according to the Department of Education, less than went to students at two-year public institutions. By the 2011-12 school year, the administration now estimates, students at for-profit schools should receive more than $10 billion in Pell grants, more than their public counterparts. (Those anticipated increases may shrink, depending on the outcome of wrangling in Congress over health care and student lending
Enrollment at for-profit trade schools expanded about 20 percent a year the last two years, more than double the pace from 2001-7, according to the Career College Association.
Jeffrey West was working at a pet store near Philadelphia, earning about $8 an hour, when he saw advertisements for training programs offered by WyoTech, a chain of trade schools owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc.
, a publicly traded company that last year reported revenue of $1.3 billion.
After Mr. West called the school, an admissions representative drove to his house
to sell him on classes in auto body refinishing and upholstering technology, a nine-month program that cost about $30,000.
Some 14 months after he completed the program, Mr. West, 21, has failed to find an automotive job. He is working for $12 an hour weatherizing foreclosed houses.
With loan payments reaching $600 a month, he is working six and seven days a week to keep up.
“I’ve got $30,000 in student loans, and I really don’t have much to show for it,” he said. “It’s really frustrating when you’re trying to better yourself and you wind up back at Square One.”
When Andrew Newburg called the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, Ore., to seek information, he was feeling pressure to start a new career. It was 2008, and his Florida mortgage business was a casualty of the housing bust. An associate degree in culinary arts from a school in the food-obsessed Pacific Northwest seemed like a portal to a new career.
The tuition was daunting — $41,000 for a 15-month or 21-month program — but he said the admissions recruiter portrayed it as the entrance price to a stable life.
Last summer, halfway through his program and already carrying debts of about $10,000, Mr. Newburg was alarmed to see many graduates taking jobs paying as little as $8 an hour washing dishes and busing tables, he said. He dropped out to avoid more debt.
The job placement results that the school files with accrediting agencies suggest a different outcome. From July 2007 to June 2008, students who graduated from the culinary arts associate degree program landed jobs that paid an average of $21,000 a year, or about $10 an hour. Oregon’s minimum wage is $8.40 an hour.
When TJ Williams arrived in Portland from his home in Utah to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu in 2007, he was shocked by the terms of the aid package the school had arranged for him: One loan, for nearly $14,000, carried a $7,327 “finance charge” and a 13 percent interest rate.