Federal officials and whistle blowers from the for-profit college industry have accused for-profit schools of shady recruitment practices that burden students with loans they can’t afford to repay.

News that shook for-profit investors this month could mark the start of an online learning decline. The University of Phoenix, a for-profit giant under federal scrutiny of questionable recruitment practices, saw its student enrollment plummet more than 40 percent from October to December.

The university’s parent company, Apollo Group, reported an overall enrollment decline of 3.8 percent from 2009.

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