NEW YORK (TheStreet) – There's an old proverb: Give someone a fish, they'll eat for a day. Teach them how to fish, they'll eat for a lifetime.

The importance of a quality education has been and always will be at the center of humanity's hunger for progress. The most basic form of education is "learning from our mistakes."

To that end, it's a travesty that many unsuspecting students enrolled in for-profit educational institutions are learning a tough lesson of putting too much faith into those they've entrusted to teach them.

These so-called "private institutions" market themselves as offering a quality education and a better way of life. But as their profits grow they only leave their students wallowing in debt.

The growing popularity of these for-profit education outfits such as Strayer (STRA), Corinthian Colleges (COCO) and Apollo Education Group's (APOL) University of Phoenix has been an important topic among consumers and U.S. lawmakers.

These institutions, which often charge much higher tuition than even community colleges, offer among other things convenient class locations, online degrees and high-paying job upon completion.

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From 1990 to 2012 undergraduate enrollment at these schools grew at a faster rate than did enrollments at non-profit and public institutions, according to a study by the Institute of Education Science, which also found that enrollment at these schools increased by 634% -- jumping from 200,000 students in 1990 to 1.5 million in 2012.

These figures are astounding, especially considering during that same span enrollment at private non-profit institution grew by a mere 20%.

Stephen Hancock, an associate professor of Multicultural Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is not impressed. In a phone interview on Wednesday, he told me these schools were "nothing but scams." Hancock added that despite the outperformance in their enrollment, they offer little if any long-term value.

He says his university and other well-respected non-profit colleges with high entrance requirements aren't worried. This is because the demographic they target are not the students who would have otherwise qualified for enrollment at a traditional four-year institution anyway.

University of Phoenix, Strayer, Kaplan and several others declined to comment for this article. Emails sent to Corinthian Colleges, DeVry (DV), ITT Educational Services (ESI) and Education Management Corporation (EDMC) were not immediately returned.

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