Public Agenda Alert -- Thursday, February 20, 2014
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Many College Students Not Comparative Shoppers
Philip Howard's New Way to Look at Law and Gov
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Many Students Don't Shop Around 

Before Picking a College

Barring the few Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world, going to college may be one of the most important decisions in a person's life. And the college and program of study you choose could have important ramifications on your career prospects. Unfortunately, it seems that prospective students may not be so good at shopping around for schools before enrolling.


Recently, we spoke to students currently enrolled at both for-profit and community colleges, and our research suggests that these students are not comparative shoppers. Just 4 in 10 for-profit students and community college students had seriously considered more than one school before enrolling.


These findings are summarized in our new report, "Profiting Higher Education?" In addition to for-profit and community college students, we also surveyed for-profit alumni, employers and adult prospective students for this research.


Students are even less likely to compare for-profit with not-for-profit schools before enrolling, with just 20 percent of for-profit undergraduates having considered a not-for-profit college. Six percent of community college students considered a for-profit school during their college search. Many students seem to be drawn to either for-profit or not-for-profit schools, though rarely to both.


What's more, a large number of for-profit and community college students don't really understand what a for-profit school is, or how it is different from a public, non-profit school. An astounding 65 percent of current for-profit college students say they were "unsure" if their school was for-profit or not. Two in 3 community college students say they are unsure if their school in for-profit or not.


But does knowing this distinction matter, ultimately? Among adult prospective students, over half are unfamiliar with the term "for-profit college." However, when they learn about what differentiates for-profit from not-for-profit schools, particularly in the ways they are funded and governed, and some of their student outcomes, many became more distrustful of the for-profit institutions. (This finding is discussed in a prior report, part of the same project.)


Furthermore, the distinction between for-profits and not-for-profits seems to matter for many employers. While many perceive no difference between for-profit schools and public sector institutions, those who do view community college and public universities as superior. Just 5 percent say for-profit colleges are better than public universities at preparing students to work at their company.


"Profiting Higher Education?" is the third in a series of reports on critical issues and populations in higher education. The ongoing project was funded by The Kresge Foundation. Other reports in the series include "Not Yet Sold: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education" and "Is College Worth it For Me? How Adults Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School." 

Philip K. Howard with a New Way to Look at 

Law and Government

Board member Philip Howard has long been a champion of re-injecting common sense and personal responsibility into American public life. Most recently, Philip has launched a daily commentary series, Howard's Daily. The series provides a fresh perspective on law and government and insights into a potential front for battling gridlock and other forms of policy dysfunction.


Recent posts discuss topics like school discipline, infrastructure, the need for law to support moral choices, why regulation requires human judgment, and where conservatives are right in their critique of government


Here's an excerpt from his most recent post:


It's impossible to run a government, much less balance public budgets, under the weight of hundreds of laws and programs that are obsolete in whole or part. The weight grows heavier every year. It will break, sooner or later. Perhaps it's time to start thinking about [how] to fix it.


You can catch Philip's commentary on the Common Good blog and at the Huffington Post. Philip's also joined Twitter. Follow him at @PhilipKHoward.

PA in the News

Recent press coverage of Pubic Agenda's research reports and other public engagement initiatives. 

Coverage for "Profiting Higher Education? What Students, Alumni and Employers Think About For-Profit Colleges"
by Richard Pérez-PeñaThe 

New York Times

by Katherine Mangan, The Chronicle of Higher Education
by Andrea Watson, Inside Higher Ed

by Mark Huffman, Consumer Affairs 
by Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed
In partnership with the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums, we looked at how everyday citizens and students on campuses across the country view the purpose of higher education. In a forthcoming report, we note that their views may be somewhat at odds with those of many reformers focused on short-term job outcomes.
Public Agenda has signed on with the League for Innovation in the Community College for a new project. We'll be helping the League run focus groups and facilitate conversations with college faculty on some of the often divisive issues these faculty and their schools are facing. 
About Us
Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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