For-Profit Colleges: Good for Black Students?

Bloomberg/Getty Images
Bloomberg/Getty Images

While black students are between 10 and 13 percent of the students at two- and four-year public colleges, they're 22 percent of for-profit colleges. What's going on?


Here's what Tressie McMillan Cottom, a Ph.D. student in Emory University's sociology department, told Colorlines: "We have unequal K through 12 schools that haven't prepared everyone equally for college — and [black students] are more likely to have attended those schools. And then here we are with all this aspiration in a new, changing economic landscape, and you have traditional schools not responding to those needs. And on top of that, we incentivize for-profit schools at the federal level to serve those very people," she said.

It seems that institutions like University of Phoenix are in some ways a perfect fit for African Americans looking to add credentials to their résumés, but they have other qualities — and incentives — that should make us look beyond the convenient diplomas they offer.

[F]or black people in particular who are looking to enter or move up in the workforce, said Tressie McMillan Cottom, a PhD student in Emory University's sociology department, "having a credential tends to mean more than it means for other people." Bosses' implicit biases are powerful (PDF), and even mean that when bosses try to infer an applicant's social background based on their name, those thought to be black are less likely to get called for interviews than people with white-sounding names. Bosses, it turns out, are more inclined to follow up with Emilys than they are with Lakishas (PDF) …

And yet, at what cost? For-profit school degrees cost on average three to four times what students would pay for equivalent degrees at community colleges and public universities. The for-profit industry has come under scrutiny by members of Congress and the Obama administration for sucking up students' federal aid and grants and often selling them classes whose credits are nontransferrable, in programs which are unaccredited. Meanwhile, even though for-profit school students are just around 10 percent of the higher education student population, they take out more than a quarter of the nation's federal student aid, and make up 43 percent of those who default on their loans.

And all the while, despite a recent blip, the for-profit industry's growth is monumental. The free market may not be worthy of solving the nation's higher education needs. But it sure is going to try.

Read more at Colorlines.