Metro

Students at for-profit schools carry heavy debt, report finds

AUGUSTA, Maine — A new report says that students at for-profit colleges in Maine carry much heavier debt loads than those at public and private nonprofit colleges in the state.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsible Lending says the debt burden falls on low-income, female, and minority students who disproportionately enroll at Maine for-profit schools. About 75 percent of students at such institutions take on student loans, compared with 66 percent and 41 percent, respectively, at private and public institutions.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of students are women and 8 percent are African-American. The report said 60 percent of students received federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to those with low incomes.

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‘‘One of the things we see consistently across the board: Students who attend for-profit colleges are burdened more by debt,’’ said Whitney Barkley-Denney, legislative policy counsel for the nonprofit.

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Maine’s student borrowing figures closely track national data. In the 2011-2012 school year, 73 percent of students at for-profit colleges borrowed, according to the Brookings Institution.

Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit higher education sector’s primary trade association, didn’t respond to request for comment.

Making sure graduates get good jobs has been an issue for everyone in the for-profit education field, said Angela Watson, spokeswoman at Empire Education Group. She said Empire Beauty School offers ‘‘lifetime career services’’ to graduates, including a ‘‘good number’’ of cosmetology graduates who may not be included in the data because they work under the table.

Several for-profit schools have been the subject of state and federal investigations in recent years and faced lawsuits alleging deception in advertising and recruiting tactics. The industry has declined since rising from 650,000 in 2000 to 2.5 million students in 2010, and several have closed down, leaving students with debt.

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In January, federal officials said hundreds of programs at for-profit colleges were at risk of losing federal funding unless their graduates started earning better wages. However, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she would take another look at the so-called ‘‘gainful employment’’ federal rule.

The reported identified 11 for-profit colleges in Maine serving an estimated 3,606 students. A hearing is scheduled Monday on Democratic state Senator Eloise Vitelli’s bill requiring annual review of for-profit colleges by the state board of education.