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Dropout rates for students at for-profit colleges have remained high in recent years, as just over 40 percent of Wisconsin students who enrolled at the institutions left school without finishing their programs, according to state officials.

A report released last week by the Educational Approval Board, the agency charged with regulating for-profit institutions, found that less than one-third of the 66,819 students who enrolled in the colleges between 2012 and 2014 made it to graduation.

Dropout rates were highest among adults who enrolled in online, for-profit degree programs — more than half of students who started an online degree program in 2012 never earned one.

David Dies, the board’s executive secretary, said it is concerning to see so many students fail to earn a degree, noting that many of them took out student loans to pay their tuition.

Previous board reports have shown similarly high numbers of students dropping out.

For-profit college officials have said one reason their institutions see high dropout rates is that they tend to attract older, non-traditional students who can have a harder time focusing on school.

Critics, including state and federal regulators, have charged that the schools use aggressive marketing and convince students to take out loans for their high tuition costs, then give the relative few who manage to graduate a degree with limited value in the workforce.

The report on student outcomes found 27 percent of those who enrolled in 2012 left after their first year; that number increased to 31 percent in 2014. In the University of Wisconsin System, 86.5 percent of freshmen either stay in school or transfer to another UW institution for their second year.

Of the students who enrolled in for-profit institutions between 2012 and 2014, only 30 percent finished their program.

Dies said the board’s oversight role could soon be limited if Wisconsin joins a national reciprocity agreement for regulating for-profit schools. The EAB would lose its oversight of institutions not based in the state, which make up 117 of the 260 schools it has approved to operate in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-17 state budget sought to eliminate the Educational Approval Board, but lawmakers rejected the proposal.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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