This year’s pandemic has had a devastating impact on all industries but higher education has been affected in ways that could take years to recover. Even before the pandemic swept the world, higher education was already facing dire circumstances especially as it regards student enrollment.

Over the past few academic years (between 2014 and 2019), annual graduate enrollment across higher education institutions plummeted by as many as 1.25 million students. During this period, undergraduate student enrollment in public colleges has been one of the hardest hit, with enrollment dropping by almost 425,000 students. So as you can imagine, hundreds of colleges and universities in the country were already under serious financial stress when the year began.

Now, with the pandemic cases quickly surging, the higher education system is under even more stress than before. The huge pandemic-induced budget gaps plus the low revenues have already led to the closure of so many institutions. Budgets have had to be slashed significantly and as the end of the year quickly approaches, a wave of even more closures should be expected come next year.

Higher education institutions simply weren’t prepared to deal with a crisis of such magnitude as a pandemic. As more institutions close or perhaps merge to stay above water, it’s the students that are suffering the most. Students’ lives have already been thrown into disarray with the outbreak and when closures are confirmed, some learners’ educations are considerably disrupted.

As a result, many have dropped out with no hope of ever completing their degrees. Even if the vaccine manages to reach everyone before the second half of next year and colleges re-open, schools will have to make serious budget cuts to survive, which will ultimately continue to hurt the learners.

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Higher education experts predict that the situation will persist long after the pandemic has been squashed. Finance experts similarly have stated that schools and universities should prepare themselves for more cuts as the outbreak continues to decimate budgets. But there is light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of for-profit schools, which have unsurprisingly seen a surge in enrollment numbers during the contagion.


For-profit student enrollment rises during the pandemic

Even though public and private nonprofit universities are struggling right now, the situation is different for for-profit universities. For-profit schools have seen a boost in enrollment of 3%. So what are more students opting to attend for-profit colleges amid a pandemic?

For-profit universities have the resources

These universities and colleges have a wealth of experience in the higher education sector and thus enjoy more flexibility when it comes to deploying financial resources as needed. Generally, for-profit universities tend to be more financially nimble compared to public and private nonprofit colleges and universities. These institutions enjoy substantial cash reserves with minimal limitations on spending.

Nonprofit schools, on the other hand, especially public ones, don’t enjoy this kind of flexibility. They usually have less cash to spend on hand because they operate on annual operating budgets that redirect any profits back into the various programs and services offered.

For-profit schools have enjoyed Trump support

It also helps that for-profit schools had been enjoying encouraging policies under the Trump administration, which notably rescinded the previous administration’s rule designed to hold for-profit schools accountable for making their graduates employable. Former President Trump’s federal policy has a substantial impact on for-profit schools’ capacity to attract interested students.


The rule, which was referred to as the gainful employment provision was created by the Obama administration to crack down on career education institutions, many of which are run as for-profit schools. Now that there is a new administration in charge, the current for-profit enrollment may be short-lived. However, so far, so good.

For-profit schools have been offering remote learning for years

No one can underestimate the benefits of in-person learning. However, because of the pandemic, remote learning has become a priority as a result of the prevention measures set in place to prevent any further spread. What has been known as the old-style college experience- which involves learning and socializing nearby, has largely been discouraged this year.

But for-profit schools, which have mastered distance learning, have stepped in to salvage the situation. For-profit schools have invested heavily in online education over the last decades so it is not surprising that these institutions are experiencing enrollment spikes.

More variety for students

Traditional universities and colleges have incurred serious costs to be able to resume teaching safely on campus. This has left many unable to offer as much variety of courses as they would like. Alternatively, for-profit schools have considerably more online programs to offer students than their nonprofit counterparts. For this reason, a lot more students have opted to enroll in for-profit schools

Incentives to join abound

During the outbreak, for-profit institutions have relied on their resources to expand their marketing efforts. For example, of the many universities that spend millions on Google ads mid-pandemic, more than half were for profits.

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In addition to the hyped advertising, for-profits schools have also depended on their resources to expand their financial aid programs during the pandemic. This has gone a long way in giving students more of a reason to enroll.

Final Thoughts

The growth of online learning combined with president Trump’s lax federal oversight has helped for-profit universities grow in the last couple of years. However, during the pandemic, for-profit institutions have fared better than traditional schools and universities. The pandemic, despite all its challenges, has fueled the accelerated advancement of the for-profit sector.

Most of these institutions were already offering courses online before the outbreak. They were thus already safeguarded from the financial concerns and enrollment declines that have come with the interruption of in-person learning. Because online colleges, many of which are for-profit, are designed to weather the storm in ways that campus-based colleges simply were not, for-profit schools should continue seeing a rise in enrollment numbers in the future.