— Richard Green graduated from high school 20 years
ago, eager to get a college degree in computer science
and launch a career.
when a recruiter from what was then DeVry Institute of
Technology told him he could finish his bachelor’s
degree in three years instead of four, he signed on.
"You want to be something by a certain time
frame," said Green, of the Chicago suburb of
that decision ended up long delaying the independence
38, just this summer went through the graduation
ceremony at Prairie State College, an area community
college, posing for a photo in his cap and gown draped
in more than a dozen honors medals and stoles.
is proud of his accolades. But he also says he is on
food stamps. He still has two classes to finish to get
his degree and juggles school with part-time jobs at
GameStop and overnight shifts at 7-Eleven.
Green continues to pay down federal loans he took out to
attend DeVry, the life he hoped to jump-start still
struggles to get off the ground.
shouldn’t have to go through all that trouble just to
get to where I need to go," he said.
seeking to improve their lot in life often look to
college for a leg up, but a lack of information and an
urgency to land a job can drive youth from lower-income
communities to enroll in for-profit trade schools they
often can’t afford.
trying to climb out of poverty tend to receive less
guidance about their college choices than their more
well-heeled peers. Those who opt for for-profit schools
sometimes find themselves in greater debt while enrolled
in programs that are less flexible when it comes to
shifting gears or transferring credits.
a result, big generational gains in high school
completion are thwarted at the college juncture.
we’re seeing here is a real loss of potential,"
said Stefanie DeLuca, an associate professor of
sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who
has studied the issue.
for-profit industry, whose reputation has taken a
beating in recent years with a spate of fraud
investigations, lawsuits and tightening regulations,
said its purpose is the opposite.
schools provide that bridge to a better skill, a better
income, a real place in the middle class," said
Steve Gunderson, CEO of Career Education Colleges and
Universities, an industry trade group. Without them, he
said, "for many of these students there would be no
co-authored a study, published in the October issue of
the Sociology of Education, that examined the
post-secondary decisions of low-income black 15- to
24-year-olds in Baltimore.
found many of the 150 students in the study who ended up
at for-profit trade schools were trying to make the best
decision they could with little information beyond what
they saw on advertisements. Most had modest goals,
wishing to become truck drivers or certified nursing
assistants, and thought they were choosing short college
programs that laid out a straightforward path to a
many didn’t end up finishing.
other 18-year-olds, some discovered the career they
thought they wanted wasn’t the right fit. But
transitioning from phlebotomy to an HVAC technician
career track is not as easy as switching majors at a
nonprofit college, and some had to start over in new
programs, or even new schools, racking up more expenses.
who completed their postsecondary programs often found
themselves in jobs that didn’t pay a living wage,
now known as DeVry University, said DeLuca’s research
doesn’t apply to the school because the research
focused on certificate programs, not the degree programs
that DeVry offers in business, technology and health
care technology. DeVry’s students are "busy,
working adults with a millennial mindset, who are often
balancing the demands of school, work and family
life," said spokeswoman Donna Shaults. DeVry is
accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the nation’s
largest regional accreditor.
to Green, who felt he did "what you’re supposed
to do to have the American dream," the experience
raised by a single mom in Chicago until they moved to
suburban Matteson when he was 9, dropped out of DeVry in
1999 just a few classes shy of completion because he was
told he was no longer eligible for financial aid.
joined the Army for its loan repayment program, but left
on a medical discharge before he could take advantage of
it. He spent the next decade working various jobs in
retail and call centers in an effort to dig out of debt
before starting school over again.
wishes his high school counselors had more proactively
given advice around the pros and cons of different types
college cast as a must for upward mobility, the number
of students enrolling in for-profit schools has risen
dramatically over the past 15 years. And low-income
minority students are 3 1/2 times more likely to enroll
in for-profit institutions than higher-income students,
according to a 2015 study from the Pell Institute, a
research institute that examines educational issues.
students leave for-profit colleges with higher levels of
debt than students from the other types of institutions.
On average, attending a two-year for-profit institution
costs a student four times as much as attending a
community college, according to the Department of
loan default rates are also two to three times higher
for borrowers who attend for-profit schools than those
who attend private nonprofit and public four-year
schools, according to a 2015 study by the nonprofit
all that money doesn’t get them far. Six years after
initial enrollment, 23 percent of students who had
graduated or otherwise left for-profit colleges were
unemployed and seeking work compared with about 15
percent in the other institutions, according to a 2013
paper from Harvard researchers.
be sure, the quality of for-profit programs ranges
widely and some are well-regarded. Graduation rates for
two-year for-profit schools are higher than for
claims of fraud have recently led to the demise of some
of the industry’s big players.
month, Carmel, Ind.-based ITT Technical Institute ceased
operations at its more than 130 campuses after the
Education Department cut off access to federal financial
aid for new students following investigations into
whether ITT misled students about future job prospects
and might have accepted students who weren’t
year, California-based Corinthian Colleges closed or
sold most of its 107 campuses and liquidated its assets
through Chapter 11 bankruptcy under pressure from
regulators, who alleged deceptive practices.
headquartered in suburban Chicago, this year was warned
by the Education Department over its marketing claims
and sued by the Federal Trade Commission over how an ad
portrayed graduates’ employment rates and earnings.
Shaults said DeVry believes it measured the outcomes
"in a sound, rational and transparent manner."
The case is pending.
STORY CAN END HERE)
of the career college trade association, said he doesn’t
defend schools that engage in bad conduct. Still, he
said, undergraduate enrollment at for-profits has
dropped by 100,000 per year over the last five years
because of what he called "ideological
attacks" by federal regulators.
said "information poverty" in high school
leaves students unaware of their options.
resident Maria Masso, 34, said she knew nothing about
college when she graduated from high school in 2001.
father was an electrician and her mother owned a
cleaning company. Both were immigrants from Mexico who
did not have college degrees; they offered support but
not much advice.
waited tables, but wanted more, and recalls she was
telling that to a friend at a coffee shop one day when a
recruiter from Westwood College, a for-profit chain
based in California, overheard and engaged her in
conversation. Masso said the brochures were enticing
and, best of all, said she could finish in two years.
said her thinking was, "Let me just hurry up and
get my degree and get to work so that in two years I
will be more useful to my parents."
started on a sales and marketing track, but soon
discovered it wasn’t the right fit so she switched to
health care to become a medical assistant. She loved it,
and hoped that once she got her associate’s degree she
could transfer to a four-year school for a bachelor’s.
when she approached four-year schools to pursue her next
steps, she was told they couldn’t accept her credits.
Westwood did, as promised, offer resources to seek jobs,
but Masso recalls one employer losing interest once he
saw the school on her application, commenting that the
certificate she received there "doesn’t
day there was a lack of confidence because I’m just
another person who only finished high school,"
shuttered in March.
is now at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of
Chicago, where she is studying to become a certified
nursing assistant. She hopes to eventually get a master’s
degree to become a nurse practitioner, a career that
pays a median salary of more than $97,000 in the Chicago
metro area; the median for nursing assistants is
have emerged to fill the information void. OneGoal,
which works with 5,000 students in Chicago Public
Schools, helps students find their best college fit and
supports them from the start of their junior year of
high school through their freshman year of college.
counselors advise students to keep expenses and loans to
a minimum, said Laura Cummings, senior managing director
also teach students to look at each school’s data and
are advised, for example, to ensure that the graduation
rate for under-represented minorities is close to the
graduation rate of the school at large, Cummings said.
big problem with lack of information is that students
aim low. Of the most competitive Chicago Public Schools
students, 38 percent of those who matched with selective
colleges ended up going to undermatched schools, said
Regina Abesamis, a postsecondary coach at Network for
College Success, a program that advises schools on how
to best counsel students about their postsecondary
schools are particularly good at marketing, offering the
best trinkets at college fairs, and the attention
recruiters lavish on students can distract them from
better fits, Abesamis said.
a student who is first generation … when someone is
seeking you out, you feel important and like someone
wants you," she said.
Murray, 19, said she felt armed with good information
when she made her college choice.
who lives outside Chicago and aims to be a chef, wanted
badly to attend Kendall College, a for-profit school in
the city well-regarded for its culinary program. But her
OneGoal counselor urged her to consider the cost and the
commute, which would have taken her two hours each way.
now is on her way to getting her associate degree at
Kennedy-King College in Chicago’s Englewood
neighborhood, which houses the culinary and hospitality
path in the City Colleges system.
doesn’t yet know if she will transfer to a four-year
school or go straight to work. What she does know is
that she has options.