For-profit colleges are pulling in billions in student aid money, while producing questionable educational results, mediocre job placement statistics, and high loan default rates. Such colleges are coming under increasing scrutiny this summer, as federal regulators and government officials take a hard look at their business practices and their use of public money.

I hesitated about putting this story on my top twelve list. Students at for-profit colleges have so far engaged in very little activism themselves, and students at other institutions generally haven’t taken up their cause in any organized way. But this is a big higher education story, and it’s only going to get bigger.

It’s one that’s only going to grow more intertwined with other student activism stories. As the current investigations of for-profit higher ed bear fruit, the huge scale of the funding that’s going to that sector is going to become far better known.

And as this article from Wednesday’s Chronicle of Higher Education makes clear, public-private partnerships that involve for-profit institutions are coming under new scrutiny. (Summary: California’s public community college system was forced this week to abandon an agreement that would have encouraged its students to take courses at Kaplan University.)

For-profit higher education is booming right now, but it may be heading for a fall.

This post is the fifth in a series of twelve exploring the student activism stories that are likely to make news on the American campus in the 2010-11 academic year.