In 2013 the leadership of the private, for-profit Strayer University knew it had a problem. Enrollment and revenue, which had peaked in 2010, had fallen by roughly 25%. Profit had tumbled by more than half. Something had to change.
There are many disadvantages to being a for-profit educational institution. For one, you have to pay taxes. (Strayer, a company that generated $441 million in revenue in fiscal 2016, paid $32 million in federal state, and municipal taxes.) Another is the necessity of propping up profit margins to please shareholders. Yet another is high percentage of poor and minority students who struggle with tuition (54% black and Hispanic, 41% receiving Pell grants for low-income recipients), and yet another, at least during the previous presidential administration, was the hostility of federal regulators.
But there is one big advantage to being a private for-profit: The ability to implement change quickly. The experience of the Herndon-based company, which operates campuses in Northern Virginia, the Richmond region and Hampton Roads, shows one path higher education institutions can follow to reinvent themselves in an era of backlash against the runaway cost of attending college.