A 2015 study from the Pell Institute found that low-income minority students are 3.5 times more likely to attend for-profit colleges and universities than higher-income students, reports Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz for the Chicago Tribune.
Many low-income students see college as little more than a necessary stepping stone for pursuing a specific career path. So when for-profit colleges advertise shorter times-to-degree and boast about post-graduate earning potentials, low-income students see them as the best available option—the option that will help them, as 34-year-old Maria Masso remembers thinking, "hurry up and get [their] degree and get to work."
Masso's experience is representative of many low-income students who enroll in for-profit schools. As a first-generation student and the daughter of immigrants, she knew little about her options when she decided to apply to college. So she made her decision based on a for-profit school recruiter's sales pitch.
Further reading: How to build pathways for low-income prospects
Masso attended the for-profit school Westwood College, but later on discovered that it may not have been the best option—her credits were non-transferrable to four-year schools, and at least one employer told her that her Westwood degree "doesn't count."
Her story is not uncommon, and is a result of what Stephanie DeLuca, an associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of a study on post-secondary decisions of low-income black 15- to 24-year-olds in Baltimore calls "information poverty."
DeLuca's study found that these students fight to make smart decisions based mostly on the information available in advertisements.
In many cases, low-income and first-generation students simply do not know about non-profit, equally promising, and often much less expensive colleges.
Avoid jargon to connect with low-income prospective students
Of course, Elejalde-Ruiz notes, for-profit colleges vary tremendously in terms of quality—and she writes that in some cases these institutions might be a good choice for a particular student. But low-income students often select them because they're unaware of other options.
Proactive recruitment goes a long way and for-profit colleges are clever marketers, says Regina Abesamis, a postsecondary coach at Network for College Success. They offer personalized attention and the best swag, distracting low-income students from non-profit institutions that don't have the budget to do the same
"For a student who is first generation... when someone is seeking you out, you feel important and like someone wants you," Abesamis says (Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune, 10-7).
Also see: Low-income students, high-impact recruitment
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