Sleazy For-profit Colleges Disproportionately Target Students of Color

An absolute must-read article from American Prospect , excerpted below, details the tawdry history of for-profit colleges and how the federal government has made possible their so-called business model.

Included with the post is a photo of California Attorney General Kamala Harris (shown at left) near a board that describes the target market of a for-profit college: The school sought out “‘isolated,’ ‘impatient’ individuals with ‘low self-esteem,’ who have ‘few people in their lives who care about them’ and who are ‘stuck’ and ‘unable to see and plan well for the future.

[Related: For-Profit College Students Refuse to Pay Back Their Student Loans]

More of a scam than a business, these so-called schools spend thousands of dollars advertising in low-income communities of color, and even open schools near such communities. Less than half of their students graduate, including 65% of their black students (from four-year, for-profit programs); “for-profit colleges enroll about one in 10 American college students, but make up around half of all student loan defaults,” according to American Prospect, which colorfully describes the average for-profit student’s loan debt as “a low-value debt bomb.” But who’s providing all this money for students to borrow? The federal government is aiding and abetting average student debt for graduates at for-profit four-year colleges of “nearly $40,000, nearly $15,000 more than graduates at public four-year colleges, and over $6,000 more than graduates at historically black colleges and universities.”

This must-read post goes on to say that, astoundingly, for-profit colleges have divided the civil rights community. The entertainer Steve Harvey and civil rights activist Al Sharpton (how much more obvious could they be in their marketing to black folks?) have been hired as spokesmen for these so-called schools. I mean, if Steve Harvey and Al Sharpton say it’s OK, it’s OK. Right?

Are for-profits meeting a need in the black community, or are they just another way to exploit the poor and poorly informed, and saddle them with onerous debt? Do you have friends or family members who have attended for-profits? Do they have any regrets or are they happy with their experience? Read the excerpt below, read the piece at American Prospect, and then come back to add your comments.

On April 26, an institution of higher education that as recently as 2010 employed more than 6,000 faculty members and another 4,000 in support staff announced that it would close its doors. Corinthian Colleges had enrolled more students than the Ohio State University and the University of Texas at Austin combined. For the giant for-profit chain founded just 20 years ago, the fall from grace was aided by lawsuits from several state attorneys general and the federal government, and investigations by the SEC. These found a broad pattern of deception in recruiting students, bogus reporting of job placement data, and a strategy of combining high tuition and debt levels with a substandard educational product.

Corinthian’s story is a microcosm of the for-profit college sector over a period of three decades, a story dotted by aggressive corporate expansion and creative evasion of federal oversight. On June 8, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced debt relief for some 40,000 former Corinthian students, who collectively owed more than half a billion dollars, and a relief application process for as many as 300,000 more. “You’d have to be made of stone not to feel for these students,” said Duncan. “This has to be a wake-up call to Congress.”

In the publicity about the government’s belated crackdown on the for-profit education industry, one key fact has not gotten sufficient attention: The students targeted and affected most by fraudulent operators are disproportionately black. The story of predatory for-profit colleges is not unlike that of subprime lending or the proliferation of payday loans. Wider economic unease was used by the cynical to bring further distress to people of color.

What made possible the for-profit higher education business model was the pot of federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, student loans, and G.I. Bill benefits–combined with inadequate federal oversight.

Read more at American Prospect, then come back to add your comments.