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For-Profit Colleges, Long Troubled, See Surge Amid Pandemic

In March, as colleges and universities shuttered campuses under a nationwide lockdown, Strayer University updated its website with a simple message: “Great things can happen at home.”

Capella University, owned by the same company as Strayer, has run ads promoting its flexibility in “uncertain times” and promising would-be transfer students that they can earn a bachelor’s degree in as little as a year.

Online for-profit colleges like these have seen an opportunity to increase enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic. Their flexible programs may be newly attractive to the many workers who have lost their jobs, to college students whose campuses are closed, and to those now seeking to change careers. The colleges’ parent companies often have substantial cash reserves that they can pump into tuition discounts and marketing at a time when public universities and nonprofit colleges are seeing their budgets disintegrate.

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