Long, Christen Bradley
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In the past two decades, higher education in the United States has seen the advent of a new and controversial development: the introduction and growth of for-profit colleges and universities that offer four-year degrees. Despite ongoing academic and public interest (Hentschke, Lechuga, and Tierney 2010; Maggio and Smith 2010; Munitz 2000; Pusser and Doane 2001; Tooley 1999), however, questions remain about the implications of this trend. In this work, I examine some effects that the four-year degree granting FPCU population is having on the institutional environment of for-profit higher education. I answer the following sociological question about FPCUs: ‘How are four-year degree granting FPCUs affecting the landscape of for-profit higher education?’ by examining the ways that the growth of this population has influenced the foundings, transformations, and closures of three types of for-profit institutions. These types include 1) schools that offer four-year or graduate degrees, 2) schools that offer two-year degrees but not four-year degrees, and 3) schools that do not offer degrees. Guided by two organizational theories – population ecology and neo-institutional theory – I hypothesize about the effects that the growth of four-year degree granting for-profits will have on all for-profit institutions of higher education. I test these hypotheses using a national longitudinal dataset that includes information on all institutions of higher education in the United States that operated between the years of 1987 and 2010. While more research is needed on the effects of the for-profit system on higher education as a whole, the results reported herein represent an important contribution to the literature on for-profit higher education. The population of postsecondary for-profit schools has undergone massive changes in the past few decades, and the patterns I find in this work as well as the passage of new laws and regulations suggest that this high rate of innovation within the organizational environment will continue in the coming years. By understanding the true state of for-profit higher education over the past few decades, however, we will have a better grasp on what the future will hold for these schools and what this will mean for the American postsecondary educational system.