A Thought or Two about Classifications

As Congress and President Obama continue to seek ways to improve the post-secondary degree attainment of our population, I suggest adding to or modifying the classifications commonly used in higher education reports, regulations, and statistics.

My first suggestion is that, in the case of most classifications, the term “for-profit” be removed as a separate distinction. This term refers to corporate structure and institutional governance, neither of which is of particular relevance in describing contemporary American higher education. Also, and unfortunately, the pejorative innuendo and labeling associated with the term are not warranted or representative of the academic quality and educational impact associated with many for-profit institutions; moreover, the term does not provide a meaningful form of differentiation between institutional types.

“Private” refers to non-public institutions, and that term works for me. If someone is looking for a more distinct separation between the private, non-profit and the private, for-profit, I suggest that we use the terms “private, taxpayer subsidized” institution, as differentiated from “private, tax-paying” institution. It is noteworthy that tax-paying institutions increasingly appear more effective at responding to the educational needs of underserved and often overlooked populations than many taxpayer subsidized institutions, particularly when considering that the latter have a competitive edge in that they do not pay taxes on most or all of their operating income, or on income generated from investments in their endowment funds.

The other classification that I would like to propose is “adult-serving institution.” This classification would be applicable regardless of whether an institution is a two year college, a baccalaureate degree granting institution, masters degree granting institution, or a doctoral degree granting institution. The current, standard definition of college students was crafted with the traditional, 18 to 22-year-old individual in mind. As the numbers increase of adults returning to college seeking a first-time degree or additional credentials, the time available to them necessary to complete the degree exceeds traditional norms and expectations. An adult-serving institution should be measured on the percentage of its students who achieve their stated goals, be that certificate completion or degree attainment. How long it takes them to complete their goal is irrelevant compared with the typical expectations of and resources available to traditional, full-time students.

Lastly, open enrollment is an admissions policy that over half of all American colleges embrace. It usually pertains to institutions that accept everyone who meets a certain minimum standard, such as graduation from high school. SAT’s, ACT’s, and GPA’s are usually not considered for admission. Many, but not all, adult-serving institutions have open enrollment policies. There are many studies of student retention in higher education that demonstrate that the more selective a school is in its admissions standards, the higher its graduation rate. These studies also demonstrate the corollary – that is, the lower the selectivity, the lower the graduation rate. Studies typically rely on averages, and not all institutions are the same, just as not all students are the same. Our institution has had an open enrollment policy for all of our undergraduate programs since its founding. We maintain that policy, while at the same time embracing the objective of working with all of our students to achieve their individual goals, whether it be certificate, degree attainment, personal growth, or preparation for transfer to another institution.  Since many adult-serving institutions are open-enrollment, I propose that those with selective admissions policies be labeled as “selective,” thus making it possible to group adult-serving institutions according to their respective missions, and to measure their effectiveness against comparable institutions.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence