Share of Students Receiving Federal Aid Climbs, Especially at For-Profit Colleges

May 24, 2012

As college costs and student-loan debt continue to be hot-button political issues, a new report from the U.S. Department of Education lays out how much students borrow and where they borrow the most: at four-year for-profit institutions.

The Education Department released "The Condition of Education: 2012," this year's edition of its annual report, on Thursday, with most data current through the 2009-10 academic year. The report provides comprehensive information on postsecondary education, with figures related to enrollment, graduation rates, financial aid, fields of study, institutional expenses and revenues, and faculty compensation.

Despite rising costs at public four-year colleges, the total cost of attendance for in-state students living on campus was $20,100 in 2010-11, compared with $39,800 at private, nonprofit colleges and $30,100 at for-profit institutions. Community colleges remained the cheapest option for students, especially for those who lived with their families. Those students paid, on average, $7,900.

As the economy has shrunk and the cost of college has increased, financial aid has gone up as well. Between 2006-7 and 2009-10, the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduates receiving financial aid increased from 75 percent to 85 percent at all four-year colleges.

The share of first-time, full-time students receiving aid at public four-year colleges went up by 7 percentage points over the same period, to 82 percent. Meanwhile, for-profit colleges saw the sharpest increase: Ninety-two percent of students received aid in 2009-10, up from 55 percent in 2006-7.

Much of that aid comes in the form of student loans, a heavily debated topic in Washington as Congress battles over setting interest rates on them. According to the new federal report, students' average amount of loan aid was highest at for-profit institutions: $9,641. Eighty-six percent of students at four-year for-profit colleges took out student loans in 2009-10, compared with 63 percent of students at four-year private nonprofit colleges and 50 percent of students at four-year public institutions.

There was also some good, if not surprising news for college graduates with debt: Young adults with bachelor's degrees earned significantly more than did their less-educated peers. In 2010, people ages 25 to 34 with bachelor's degrees earned 114 percent more than did those without high-school diplomas. The college graduates earned 50 percent more than did young adults who completed only high school, and 22 percent more than did those with associate degrees.

The median income for young adults with a bachelor's degree was $45,000, and with an associate degree, $37,000, according to the report.

Graduation rates have increased in recent years, the report says. Fifty-eight percent of first-time, full-time students who started college in 2004 had completed a bachelor's degree within six years, compared with 55 percent of students who started in 1996. Students at four-year for-profit colleges struggled the most: The graduation rate there was 28 percent. It was the highest, 65 percent, at private, nonprofit institutions.

Beyond data on students, the report provides information on institutional revenues and expenses. The share of total revenue coming from tuition varied widely, from 91 percent at four-year for-profit colleges to 33 percent at four-year, private, nonprofit institutions, to 16 percent at public two-year colleges. As for total expenses per full-time-equivalent student, public two-year colleges had the lowest in 2009-10: $12,140. At four-year for-profits, it was slightly higher: $12,626. At public and private four-year colleges, it was $36,393 and $47,053, respectively.

Salaries for full-time instructional faculty ranged from $40,100 at private for-profit two-year colleges to $95,000 at private nonprofit doctoral universities.

Correction (5/25/2012, 11:41 a.m.): This article and the accompanying graph originally stated incorrectly that the data on students receiving loans pertained to all students. It pertains only to first-time, full-time students. The article and graph have been updated to reflect this correction.

Percentage of First-Time, Full-Time Students Receiving Loan Aid, 2007-10