Students at for-profit schools account for less than 10% of college students in the US, but receive over 25% of federal loans. The largest operators of for-profit schools are publicly traded; these schools are accountable not only to the students, but also to shareholders, who expect returns on their investments. Does this affect the quality of the education available at these institutions? That matter is heavily debated. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has investigated the sector for years. The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee just released a report with statistics regarding veterans and for-profit universities, but the background information on the school administration applies to all students. Restricting the use of federal aid for recruitment and marketing is under consideration on Capital Hill.
For-profit schools have an educational mission; how well that is fulfilled is also heavily debated in some quarters, investigated in others. As for student success at for-profit schools, that is also the subject of much evaluation.
While considering matters related to the for-profit/not-for-profit question, there is a totally free option: Coursera. A joint venture of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, Stanford, and Princeton, Coursera offers free, college-level, non-credit courses on a growing variety of topics. Courses are online and open to anyone.