During last year’s presidential election, the topic of for-profit colleges resurfaced as candidate Donald Trump faced criticism for lawsuits against his now defunct, for-profit college, Trump University. Although President Trump settled a $25 million lawsuit in November, the cautionary tales of for-profit colleges still remain — an issue that is prominent in our higher education system.
Today, two million Americans are enrolled in private for-profit colleges, more than quadrupling the 0.4 million at the start of the century. At first glance, for-profit institutions have one main appeal over other colleges: they’re ideal for students who are not able to take traditional classes due to family or work commitments—for-profit colleges have extremely high acceptance rates and flexible class schedules, with many schools offering the majority of their class catalog online.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a majority of the students enrolled in for-profit colleges are between the ages of 30-39, mostly female and black. Unsurprisingly, the people who fit this range are the ones sought out the most — people who do not have the luxury of time to be a full time student at a traditional institution due to a number of factors (women and African-Americans tend work more hours because of lower wages, women are more likely to stay at home taking care of the kids, etc.)
A lot of these people see for-profit colleges as their last shot at an education, and are usually left facing huge difficulties when dealing with the high tuition costs. In fact, according to an economic study by Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis of The Department of Treasury, almost all students at for-profit colleges have to take out student loans, and are three times more likely to default, or fail meeting the legal contracts set by a loan. To make matters worse, many for-profit students graduate with lower-than-expected earnings, or unemployed. Unfortunately, this is the model that for-profit colleges follow — heavy student loans from vulnerable students — to continue making profit. From the news of the Trump University lawsuit to Florida’s Dade Medical College, for-profit colleges are gradually earning a reputation as being deceptive and fraudulent.
Thankfully, certain measures are being put in place to protect students from disreputable institutions. The government has mandated for-profit schools to prove that the average student loan payment amounts to less than 8% of their annual income, and if a school fails to meet this standard for four years in a row, they will have lost access to federal loans—which will ultimately shut them down. Additionally, The Department of Defense has also stated that it will not fund troops enrolled in for-profit colleges. However, these implemented restraints discourage untraditional students from obtaining an accessible education—an argument used by some in congress to halt regulations.
Unquestionably, everyone has the right to continue their education, no matter their current lifestyle situation. However, people who wish to continue their education should not have to face the perils of attending a for-profit college — a risk that many find themselves taking. Instead, public higher education should just become more accessible to everyone, without the added high-risk factor.
By Sharon Arana