Students from disadvantaged neighborhoods are often drawn to for-profit trade schools after high school, seeing them as the quickest route to jobs. A new study finds the streamlined, focused curriculum that makes for-profit schools appealing is also the reason many poor students drop out, however. A new study of 150 black youths from some of Baltimore’s lowest-income neighborhoods shows that young people who attended for-profit institutions ended up in more debt and with fewer job prospects than they might have had they attempted two- or four-year nonprofit schools. The findings, which shed new light on what attracts students to for-profit institutions and why they struggle to complete certifications, appear in the journal Sociology of Education. …
… Most of the young people in the study, 53 percent, pursued certifications at for-profit trade schools that offer occupational training programs in fields like cosmetology, auto mechanics, computer networking, and phlebotomy. Most students who enroll in these programs are very low-income, and studies show the number of disadvantaged students choosing for-profit programs is increasing. … These young people had very grounded career expectations; most hoped to find working-class jobs, the research shows. And because of their family and financial circumstances, they wanted jobs as soon as possible. … Although most of the for-profit trade programs lasted less than two years, they were expensive. Unlike nonprofit schools, they didn’t allow undecided students to switch courses of study once a program was paid for upfront. Once enrolled, the young people tended to realize they’d committed to occupations they either weren’t qualified for or didn’t enjoy. They dropped out, or hopped from one program to another, or tried taking several programs at a time, racking up debt and increasing chances they would quit it all before earning certification. Of the young people who enrolled in a for-profit college, only 31 percent earned certification by the time the study ended. …
“Why Wait Years to Become Something?” Low-income African American Youth and the Costly Career Search in For-profit Trade Schools
Source: Megan M. Holland1 & Stefanie DeLuca, Sociology of Education, September 15, 2016
Increasing numbers of low-income and minority youth are now pursuing shorter-duration sub-baccalaureate credentials at for-profit trade and technical schools. However, many students drop out of these schools, leaving with large debts and few job prospects. Despite these dismal outcomes, we know very little about students’ experiences in for-profit programs and how these institutions shape postsecondary attainment. Using data from fieldwork with 150 inner-city African American youth, we examine why disadvantaged youth are attracted to these schools and why they struggle to complete certifications. In contrast to previous research, we find that the youth in our study have quite modest ambitions and look to for-profit trade schools as the quickest and most direct route to work. However, youth receive little information or guidance to support such postsecondary transitions. Therefore, the very element that makes for-profit trade school programs seem the most appealing—a curriculum focused on one particular career—becomes an obstacle when it requires youth to commit to a program of study before they have explored their interests. When youth realize they do not like or are not prepared for their chosen career, they adopt coping strategies that keep them in school but swirling between programs, rather than accumulating any credentials.