Social Pain and For-Profit Colleges

Blogger and scholar Tressie McMillan Cottom is writing about her work as an “admissions” counselor  at a for-profit university and subsequent research on the reasons that [primarily low-income] students are drawn to such expensive yet low-status places.  She writes that as she now asks students at her elite college whey they did not enroll at one of the many for-profits that they know about from TV ads and billboards, and they respond straightforwardly:  “That ‘s not a school for people like them.”.

Similarly, those attending the for-profits have internalized a sense of where they belong:

For-profit students are similarly hesitant during interviews when I ask them to discuss the milieu in which their educational choices were made. Even when fiercely proud of their education — and many of them are — there is a point of anger for many when asked to explain why a for-profit and not an area traditional college.

There is a sense, often unarticulated until I start prodding, that they made the best choice available to them.

Cottom frames the admissions decisions within deeper structural stratification, and despite the many ads for non-profits showing confident, aspiring young people nodding sagely at their computer screens or books, she finds that decisions to attend for-profits are embedded in pain of living at the bottom rungs of unequal social structures:

But the greatest correspondence between my data and the for-profit sector’s growth, admissions and matriculation processes is with the weakness in the economy. One finding jumps out immediately: more than educational aspiration and personal edification, fear and insecurity motivates the for-profit students I am interviewing.

This is brilliant and important work that I’ll be following.

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