Recent government figures showed an overall 0.2 percent decline in higher education enrollment in fall 2011 — driven by a 2.9 percent drop in the for-profit sector, which offset an increase at four-year nonprofit colleges.
At the same time, University of Phoenix's parent company Apollo Group Inc., announced that it will shutter roughly half the physical locations belonging to the nation's largest university.
The company attributed the move to growing interest in online courses and emphasized that just 4 percent of students are affected. But there's no denying University of Phoenix's decline in enrollment — currently about 328,000 students in degree programs, down from 381,000 a year ago and a peak of more than 475,000 in 2010.
Yearly enrollment is down 15 percent compared with a year ago at The Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan, which also is closing nine campuses; 21 percent at Career Education Corp., which operates Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, among others; and 16 percent at ITT Educational Services, according to data provided by BMO Capital Markets.
An exception is military-focused American Public Education Inc., which is booming on the heels of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
BMO managing director Jeff Silber cites a range of factors: the economy, negative publicity, more aggressive marketing from traditional universities and the Obama administration's enforcement of rules preventing colleges of any kind from paying recruiters based on the number of students they enroll.