Report: Low-income Students ‘Overrepresented’ at For-Profit Colleges

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by Amara Phillip

A brief from the Institute for Higher Education Policy suggests that low-income and minority students are increasingly over-represented at for-profit colleges.

The brief, A Portrait of Low-Income Adults in Education, is the latest in a series of IHEP reports that offer snapshots of the status of low-income students in higher education.

IHEP found that 19 percent of low-income students are enrolled in for-profit institutions. That’s up from 13 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, only 15 percent of these students are enrolled in public institutions, down from 20 percent. Low-income minority women also are three times as likely to enroll in for-profit colleges.

Still, though low-income students are overrepresented at for-profits, most of these students still attend public colleges.
 

In her June 7 testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success, noted that most low-income and minority students—as much as 78 percent—attend public or nonprofit schools.

“While most low-income and underrepresented minority students attend public colleges, these students are also heavily recruited by many career colleges, where they enroll disproportionately and in growing numbers,” she said.

It was not surprising to find that low-income students chose to attend for-profits, says Michelle Asha Cooper, president of IHEP. But what did surprise her, she says, was the “magnitude” of the extent to which students were defecting to these schools.

“When you look at low-income Black and Hispanic students, it’s not just a shift away from the public institutions,” says Cooper. “They are going to for-profit institutions by leaps and bounds.”

Cooper says that the brief is meant to put the broader debate about college completion into perspective. The authors note that demographic and economic changes have put the need for a well-educated workforce into high relief.

The United States expects a workforce shortage in 2018, caused by the mass retirement of baby boomers. And by as early as 2012, an extra 20 million jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“We want to make sure that, as we talk about completion, we’re talking about the population of students we absolutely need to go to college and finish and the struggles that they may encounter,” says Cooper.

Cooper says that, so far, the discussion about the role of for-profits in higher education has been far from productive.

“We have this battle where for-profits are bad, evil guys,” she said. “The not-for-profit sector needs to do a better job of holding up the mantle for low-income students as well.”

“[We’re] committed to ensuring that all low-income and first-generation students have access to a quality and affordable higher education,” says Heather Valentine, vice president of Public Policy and Communications at the Council for Opportunity in Education.

“We understand that the for-profit sector is serving an increasing number of low-income students each year, and we remain committed to the goal that all institutions, including for-profits, provide the support services necessary to enable traditionally underrepresented students to succeed in and graduate from college,” Valentine says.

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