Background/Context: Scarce research has been conducted examining why students choose to attend higher priced for-profit institutions over community colleges. The authors suggest that increased national concern over proprietary higher education warrants an in-depth comparative case study of the choice factors utilized by for-profit and community college students.
Research Question: The research questions guiding this analysis are: (a) Why and how do students choose to attend for-profit colleges and community colleges? (b) What factors were important in their decision? (c) What implications do these results have for rational choice and college choice theory?
Setting: Data were collected at one community college and one for-profit college in California that had similar vocational programs.
Subjects: A total of 137 for-profit and community college students (75 for profit, 62 community college) enrolled in a vocational nursing or surgical technician associate’s degree program agreed to participate.
Research Design: The authors examine student college choice factors through a case study. The findings were developed from interviews, surveys, and focus groups.
Findings: The authors found that for-profit and community college students held varying conceptions of costs and benefits as they pertained to college choice factors. Three particular dimensions were highlighted in student responses—short-term and long-term gains, risks, and uncertainty.
Conclusions: This study illuminates the nuanced factors and goals that informed student college choice decisions. Understanding these distinct college choice considerations could help researchers, practitioners, and institutional leaders develop measures for institutional effectiveness and student success.