What Can We Learn From the For-Profit Industry?

05/06/2015 03:51 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016


Last week Corinthian College, the controversial for-profit giant, shut its doors . The closure of this major player in the for-profit higher education industry comes after years of intense scrutiny from policymakers, practitioners and researchers on the industry's ability to support long-term student success. Although a major step forward, this move creates an uncertain future for both its students and higher education as a whole

In recent years, The White House, Congress and higher education advocates have heavily criticized the for-profit industry. These critics often cite the sector's deceptive recruiting practices, massive debt and the viability of its credentials. The majority of students that enroll in these institutions comprise some of higher education's most vulnerable populations: minorities, veterans and non-traditional students. Latinos are overrepresented in the for-profit sector as they comprise 15% of the total population of for-profits schools and only 11.5% of all institutions of higher education. The Latino students that enroll in for-profit institutions also wind up with higher debt totals, higher student loan default rates and higher levels of unemployment. Given these risks associated with for-profit industry, why have Latinos and other vulnerable populations flocked to enroll in these institutions? More importantly, what can higher education leaders learn from this trend?

Campus Climate
Research indicates that the climate of a university-the behaviors, attitudes and standards concerning the level of respect for individual needs, abilities and potential- plays a large role in students' ability to succeed. Students of color often experience a "chilly" campus climate due to microagressions-psychologically damaging racism and sexism on college campuses. These acts leave students of color unsure of where or who to turn to for help. Although for-profit institutions employ deceptive recruiting practices, their emphasis on advising is important to highlight. Advising plays a key role in helping ensure that students not only enter in postsecondary education, but also succeed. In recent years, higher education leaders have urged colleges to deepen their commitment to advising underrepresented students.

An important facet of for-profit institutions is the flexibility of where and when students can take courses. Increasingly, students are able to complete their degrees at their computers. This option is enticing for vulnerable student populations who feel that traditional colleges do not cater to their needs. For Latino students, who balance family responsibilities, employment and pursuing a degree, online education can be a viable option. In recent years, traditional institutions of higher education have started to explore this option, but it is important to ensure that that online courses are structured in a way that best support the students that need it the most.

For-profit colleges are bad investment for students and for our society. However, there is a reason that they exist and have created a seismic shift in higher education. The structure of traditional higher education is no longer meeting the needs of vulnerable student populations. As the demographics of our nation continue to shift, this will become an increasingly larger dilemma. If higher education does not adapt to the needs of these changing demographics, then the future will not only be uncertain for vulnerable student populations, but it will also be uncertain for our nation.