But some governments risk stemming the flow of graduates by limiting the expansion of such colleges, according to two experts on emerging economies.
Karan Khemka, the partner and Mumbai head of global consultants the Parthenon Group, and Parag Khanna, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation thinktank, argue that new economies should not follow the "traditional" Western model of the university.
"Instead of generalists, they need skilled graduates with training relevant to their developing industries, typically in engineering and management," they write in the latest edition of Harvard Business Review.
They go on to say that for-profit universities are ideally placed to offer such education, are designed to be "sustainable and scalable" and are able to fund their expansion through the "massive opportunities" they present to investors.
However, the authors criticise the "counterproductive" regulation of the for-profit industry in some countries such as India, which has seen a far lower increase in university enrolments than China, where there has been greater encouragement for private colleges from the government.
They add that although it is "imperative" that all universities are accountable to students and citizens, the "economic necessity" of expanding higher education in developing countries means that for-profits have to fill the gap.
"Education creates human capital, which enables economic growth. That's why pouring much more money into for-profit higher education could jump-start the global economy and deliver big returns," they write in "Enroll the World in For-Profit Universities".
The article features in an issue covering "audacious ideas", in which specialists in a number of different disciplines propose radical solutions to global problems.