A March 2016 study by the American Economic Review looked at the relationship between academic institution types and graduate job prospects, and the results aren’t promising for for-profit colleges. Graduates from these institutions are at a significant disadvantage in the job market, even when resumes and applicant profiles are otherwise identical. So what’s to be done?

Employer Response by the Numbers

For-profit colleges have seen a major growth spurt over the last ten years, with accompanying funding and enrollment boosts. However, the AER study shows a clear distrust on the part of employers in graduates’ qualifications. Compared to applications by graduates of traditional not-for-profit four-year institutions, those who attended local brick-and-mortar for-profits saw 10% fewer callbacks — and for graduates of online institutions, the discrepancy was a whopping 25%.

However, there was one bright spot in the study: jobs requiring a vocational license or certification had approximately equal callback numbers for graduates of all colleges.

A Few Bad Apples — And the Feds Too

So why are employers so distrustful of nontraditional degree-holders? To use the tried and true idiom, a few bad apples can spoil — in terms of perception, at least — the whole barrel. For-profit colleges, and online institutions in particular, have a largely-undeserved reputation as predatory money pits, soliciting enrollments and accepting federal education funds without offering students adequate educational return on their investment. One prominent institution had to shut its doors after a multi-million dollar lawsuit over its deceptive advertising techniques, and similar university companies are currently under investigation for the same issue.

This uproar over the for-profit model has prompted the US Department of Education to “crack down” on the practice as a whole — even including institutions who have done nothing wrong. This has led to an unfair dichotomy where the government puts unrealistic expectations on the “gainful employment prospects” of for-profit graduates, while not holding not-for-profit institutions to the same standard.

Even this crackdown isn’t applied evenly – the feds have exempted nonprofit institutions from the infamous “gainful employment” regulations, but there are many who are significantly worse than the for-profit sector. (More on this in a later blog.)

What To Do

It seems like employers’ unfair perspective on for-profit degrees isn’t going anywhere on a macro level — but individual institutions can create a sea change. Particularly with regard to professional, occupational and vocational certifications, for-profit universities can strengthen their standing by offering credentials from industry-recognized programs. Professional networks and societies are an excellent resource for this kind of qualification, from the Society for Human Resource Management’s Professional or Senior Professional Certificates to the American Welding Society’s vast array of application-specific accreditations.

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The Change Leader is here to facilitate academic organizations’ acquisition and retention of these qualifications, leading to increased trust and validation for those who believe in nontraditional learning paths. Visit our homepage to find out how the team can optimize your organization in both academics and program development.