For-Profit Colleges: Organized forUrgency and Social “Pain”?Southern Sociological Society, 2013Tressie McMillan CottomPhD Student, Sociologytcottom@emory.edutressiemc.com@tressiemcphd
Market Innovation or Social Process?In 2001, 8 of the top 10 producers ofblack bachelor‟s degree holders wereHBCUs. The other two were TWIs. Thenumber one was Fisk.In 2010, the number one producer wasthe University of Phoenix. It was one ofthree for-profits in the top 10, with sixHBCUs and 1 TWIs.Source: Diverse: Issues of Higher Education@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Market Innovation or Social Process?• “Poor women were twice as likely aspoor males to start at for-profitinstitutions (23 percent versus 12percent), but the difference in terms ofstarting at a community college favoredlow-income males by 9 percentagepoints (58 percent versus 49 percent).”• Low-income female students from everyracial/ethnic group are nearly threetimes as likely to attend for-profits astheir higher-income femalecounterpartsSource: Institute Higher Education Policy (June, 2011). Portraits: Initial collegeattendance of low-income young adults. Washington, DC: IHEP@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Higher Education: Mobility v. SocialReproductionWhat if for-profit colleges are aconsequence of the very economicinsecurity to which they positionthemselves to solve?
Structure, Orgs, and PeopleHigher education exists, “at the intersection ofmultiple institutions…connecting multiple socialprocesses that often are regarded asdistinct”(Stevens, Armstrong, Arum 2008).All those processes intersect at the pointof admissions.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
The Study• Nine for-profit colleges in large urbanmetro. Institutions are representative of thesector.• 20 interviews with students currentlyattending one of the nine schools.• Three traditional colleges: communitycollege, Adult Ed program, open accesspublic@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Institutions@tressiemcphd#SSS2013Note: Uses classification scheme from IHEP (2012). “A NewClassification Scheme for For-Profit Institutions”.
The ProfitU Way: Enrollment, Not“Admissions”ProfitU: Urgency, RelationshipsTraditionalU: Extended admissions period,Bureaucratic DistanceAdmissions is about exclusion: high applicationsand low acceptance rates connotes prestige andquality.Enrollment is about open-access with low or noadmission standardEnrollment + Profit = Open access and expandingoverall market@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Enrollment1. A student calls or emails and an enrollment counseloranswers or responds.2. A campus tour for any details, scheduled as soon aspossible.3. Reminder calls to keep campus tour4. Greeted by receptionist when arrive for campus tour5. Information sheet. What it asks: motivations, contactinformation. What it doesn’t ask: educational biography.6. A brief interview with enrollment counselor, tour tailoredto interests on the information sheet.7. Asked to complete an enrollment agreement.8. Accelerated schedules means time from initial contact toclass start can be as little as 3-4 weeks.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Urgency, Pain, and MotivationWe deal with people that live in the moment and for the moment.Their decision to start, stay in school or quit school is based more onemotion than logic. Pain is the greater motivator in the short term."(Vatterott Educational Corporation documents in Senate HELP report,2012)“Remind them of what things will be like if they dont continue forwardand earn their degrees. Poke the pain a bit and remind them who elseis depending on them and their commitment to a better future." (ITTTechnical Institute’s Recruitment Manual, “Pain Funnel”, in SenateHELP report, 2012)@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
“They Knew I Was Ready”The data collected to develop urgency often invisible tostudents or it is constructed as expert guidance:“To get started one need only dial a phone number. When you do, ahuman being answers. Sometimes called an enrollment assistant orthe office receptionist, this role is the frontline offense for the for-profitsector‟s assertive recruitment. To the prospective students it signalsaccessibility. Connie says, “I was ready. I been talking forever, saying„I‟m going back, I‟m going back‟ but this time I was ready. When Icalled I was ready. They told me they could tell I was ready on thephone.”Whether the enrollment adviser could ascertain Connie’scollege readiness or not, Connie constructed the banterdesigned to encourage a campus visit as a sign that theinstitution thought her ready.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Urgency, Pain, and MotivationUrgency: Organizational response to prospective students that haveto choose to go to college (Mullens 2010), rather than implicit defaultassumption to go to college.Pain: Empirical reality of those for whom economic insecurity is mostacute. Could contextualize gendered, racialized, classed patterns offor-profit students.Motivation: Has to come from either the individual or the structure.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
“I’m All They Got”Of the nineteen respondents in my study, sixteen were women. All ofthe women I interviewed were parents, most of them parenting aloneor co-parenting with fathers not in the home. They allude, frequently,to the responsibility they feel to their children.“I am all she‟s got”, Lisa says of her four-year old daughter who has amild learning disability that requires monitoring and resources.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
“I’m All They Got”The job insecurity that motivated the many of these women to enrollat Profit U was exacerbated by the responsibility they feel to provide asolid middle-class upbringing for their children.“She can dance. I want to enroll her in dance classes…something toburn up that energy. She can‟t sit still in school. She needs to…be insomething”, said Lisa.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013
Discussion and Future WorkThe innovative for-profit college “market” is constructed fromeconomic insecurity and effects of eroding social safety nets.Ascendancy of the sector pegged to major structural changes inthe 1990s and 2000s.Prestige-Price Correlation is disrupted: status competition hasnever been so expensive for the most socially vulnerable.Debt: a mobility vehicle or exacerbates poverty exposure?Many for-profit students (including those in my sample) arealso employed. Connections to credentialism, new corporatework arrangements, decline of internal labor markets? Couldalso explain gendered and racialized differences in for-profitparticipation.@tressiemcphd#SSS2013