For-Profit Colleges

Many colleges and universities seem to have similar features, but the way they are structured or managed can reveal a lot about their academic programs and social environment. When you start researching individual colleges, you should know which general category that school falls under: Non-Profit (private or public) or For-Profit.



Public colleges and universities receive funding from tuition and endowments, but the larger part of their funding comes from state or local taxes. Most public postsecondary schools are state-run, which lowers the tuition for in-state students.

Private, Non-Profit

Private, non-profit colleges and universities receive funding primarily from student tuition and endowments. These institutions function as non-profit organizations that usually follow the leadership of a board of trustees. Private colleges and universities may receive some governmental support in the form of tax breaks and student loans, but operating mostly on private support allows them to develop their own institutional plan.

Private, For-Profit

For-profit colleges are run by companies that operate under the demands of investors and stockholders. These institutions are privately run and exist, at least in part, to earn money for their owners. Nevertheless, for-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid.


Read more: College Categories​​


 Why Have For-Profit Colleges Been in the News Recently?


Investigations by the federal government, media, and States Attorneys General ​have revealed countless instances of unscrupulous for-profit colleges (particularly those that are run by large, publicly-traded companies), engaging in deceptive, aggressive and manipulative tactics to enroll as many students as possible, without regard for their potential for success or ability to afford tuition, in an effort to maximize profits.

The wealth of sources included on NACAC's Program Integrity page describe how these colleges have adversely impacted students and the taxpayers that fund federal and state financial aid. Additionally, the exhaustive report For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success includes the findings of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension's two year investigation of the for-profit sector.

 Resources from the non-profit collaborative Protect Students and Taxpayers


 Counselors: Training on For-Profit Colleges


​Looking for help on how to talk to students about for-profit colleges? Check out the following resources: 

Choosing a College

For-Profit Colleges: What to Know Before You Enroll (NACAC Brochure for Students)

Veterans: Don't Get Schooled

Check out the following college search resources from the federal government:

Still have questions? Contact NACAC at

 Students: Know Your Rights


​Feeling lost, left behind, or cheated during the college admission process? Remember that you have rights too! See NACAC's Students’ Rights and Responsibilities in the College Admission Process brochure and, if you feel you've been mistreated, you get help from a variety of consumer- and student-advocacy groups including U.S. PIRG, The Institute for College Access and Success, and the National Consumer Law Center.


Submit a Complaint:

Postsecondary Education Complaint System- Department of Defense

GI Bill​ Complaint System- Veteran's Affairs

Private student loans- CFPB

Federal financial aid- Department of Education


 Debt Relief for Veterans


The organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is offering support for student veterans who have excessive loans from attending a for-profit institution.