some of us are brave
My friend Akil Bello owns a professional admissions test prep company, the delightfully ironically named Bell Curves. Knowing my work, Akil was kind enough to ask me to offer some free advice on institutional types to young people preparing for college applications. There are a few reasons that I happily said yes.
One, an IHEP report I contributed to on classification systems points towards the dismal inadequacy of our current language about college types to accurately discuss the diversity of choices available today. There is no reason that a six month course in cosmetology should be lumped in with a master’s degree program in business administration. Yet, our current system of classification is woefully weighted towards traditional higher education, mostly ignores the diversity within the for-profit sector, and is primarily concerned with prestige and selectivity.
In the real world, students and their families should be equipped with a language to interrogate the profit-orientation of a school so that they can determine, for themselves, if that orientation matters to their own goals. One of my concerns about the for-profit sector and the over-representation of high need students in it is that many of those students may not be presented with the tools to determine if a school or program fits their needs. I also worry that in leaving language ambiguous we allow inconsistencies in quality, type, and access to operate, invisible to end users. For example,is an engineering degree at ITT qualitatively different than one at MIT? Is a course credit the same in both contexts? If so, how and why do we then call them the same thing? How are students supposed to suss out differences?
Two, despite the rhetoric that for-profit colleges primarily serve older students who, presumably, know the score and make a rational education decision that is best for them, I believe there’s reason to believe that many students enroll without knowing the score. That is particularly more true for minorities, first generation students, students with poor K-12 preparation, and other high risk students — all of which are groups over-represented in for-profit populations. In fact the average age of a for-profit student is lower for blacks than for whites, suggesting different demographics exists by race and class.
There has also been a push by some for-profit schools to market to graduating high school students. When I worked for ITT-Technical Institute one recruiter was assigned, full time, to visiting area high school college fairs. He told me on several occasions that he had more luck gaining entry into urban, poor, and minority high schools than he did wealthier, whiter, suburban high schools. If poor black kids get more exposure to the for-profit sector in legitimizing environments like high school college fairs than do their white, wealthier counterparts then it behooves us to talk to them about the differences in institutional sectors.
Finally, I happily said yes to Akil’s request because I love talking to students. Even when they drive me to drink, my aspirational students who are more bravado and energy than maybe know-how energize me and make me feel like my life is worth living.
So, thanks to Akil for the space to start a conversation on institutional types for students I am particularly emotionally attached to in a venue that I believe in.