The For-Profit College Education: A Not-So-Golden Ticket

By Jennifer Herard

Nontraditional students are often committed and motivated to pursuing postsecondary education, but confront unique challenges. The for-profit college industry has stepped in to fill the demand for education of nontraditional students, but often these schools succeed only in adding to the burdens on nontraditional students.

Nontraditional students—a term that can include those who are working part- or full-time while acquiring an education, student parents, and those who have delayed enrollment—make up a significant part of the overall student population. According to a March 2011 Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) report, nearly a quarter (3.9 million) of postsecondary students in the United States are parents—of which 57 percent are low-income. Women make up a significant portion at 78 percent of single student parents and 81 percent of low-income, single parents.

Low-income, single parents face unique challenges and needs, such as access to affordable child care. But for student parents, the hard-fought earning of a degree can provide a significant payoff in the way of increased earnings and educational outcomes for children in the family. For-profit colleges offer student parents what seems to be a golden ticket, attracting a high proportion of student parents—48 percent of students at for-profit colleges have dependent children, more than double the proportion found at public and not-for-profit institutions. However, for-profit colleges often do not provide adequate support to ensure student parent success.

As a result of a noticeable growth in enrollment, profits, and amounts of financial aid funding at for-profit colleges, Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, launched an investigation in June 2010 with a series of five hearings and a document collection to investigate the industry’s practices.

The investigation revealed that for-profit colleges hire droves of recruiters who often use misleading practices to pull in nontraditional students. Senator Harkin asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate recruiting practices and found  “[r]ecruiters are too often encouraged to hide the ball on matters of cost, transferability of credits, graduation rates, and employment and salary after graduation.”

This is only one of the findings of the investigation that raised red flags, particularly for low-income parents. According to the HELP Committee’s investigation, for-profit colleges are actually six times more expensive than community college and twice that of four-year public schools. Low-income students often take out federal loans in order to pay the exorbitant costs of for-profit colleges and then are not able to complete their program, leaving them saddled with a huge amount of debt and no degree to provide better job opportunities.

Adding to this, once students are enrolled, for-profit colleges often do not make available the support services that nontraditional students need to be successful, such as academic advisors or childcare services.

IWPR hosted a July 25th webinar titled Closing the Financial Gap for Low-Income Student Parents: The Benefits of Integrated Service Delivery on Community College Campuses. Ann Lyn Hall, Director of CNM Connect at Central New Mexico Community College and Kristina Testa-Buzzee, Director of the Family Economic Security Program at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut discussed the ways that their institutions support student parents.

Hall said that bundling services—providing two or three of support services such as public benefits screening, academic advising, and achievement coaches—allows a student to achieve his or her educational outcomes at a better rate than when services are provided in isolation. Surprisingly, student parents at Norwalk Community College reported that coaching services are more valuable to their success than financial services.

For-profit colleges are sinking money into recruitment and that is not a helpful service for student parents who already have the motivation and desire to go to college. Instead, these dedicated students need support staff, such as achievement coaches, to help in navigating the college environment.

Jennifer Herard is the Research Intern with the Student Parent Success Initiative, an Institute for Women’s Policy Research project.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Top 5 Recent IWPR Findings

By Jennifer Clark

When IWPR posted a “Top 5” list of our most revealing research findings in December, we were so encouraged by the level of interest our readers showed in the post, that we decided to turn it into a regular roundup. Although intending to compile another “Top 5” list, the first four months of 2011 were so action-packed that we couldn’t limit ourselves to just five. From Social Security to employment discrimination, here are the top IWPR findings from 2011 (so far):

1.       Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.  If you watch cable news, read reputable newspapers, or even tune in to late night television, you would get the impression that the Social Security system, which helped keep 14 million Americans over the age of 65 out of poverty in 2009, is broken. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit and is forbidden by law to borrow money to pay for benefits.  In fact, Social Security is actually running a surplus—a big one—at $2.6 trillion, an amount that is projected to increase to $4.2 trillion by 2025.

2.       Although many groups advocate for immigrant rights at the local, state, or national levels, very few advocate specifically for the rights of immigrant women. A new IWPR report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, on the challenges facing Latina immigrants in the United States, explores the specific challenges faced by immigrant women—higher poverty rates than their male counterparts and greater risk of sexual, domestic, and workplace violence—and spotlights the organizations that are trying to help.

3.       The gender wage gap has narrowed only 13 percentage points in the last 55 years. With the ratio of women’s to men’s earnings stagnating at 77 percent in recent years, IWPR projected that, if current trends continue, the gender wage gap will finally close in 2056—45 years from now. In terms of how the gender wage gap breaks down by occupation, IWPR also found that women earn less than men in 107 out of 111 occupational categories, including female-dominated professions like teaching and nursing.

4.       Women’s career and life choices do not completely explain  the gender wage gap. IWPR’s new report, Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope—a review of over 500 sex and race discrimination settlements –offers distressing evidence of the factors that keep women’s median earnings lower than men and keep women out of better paid jobs. These include discrimination in hiring, sexual harassment of women trying to work in male-dominated jobs, preventing women from getting the training that is required for promotion (or only requiring that training of women), and paying women less for the same work than men. The report finds that ensuring transparency in hiring, compensation, and promotion decisions is the most effective means for addressing discrimination.

5.       On-campus child care centers meet only five percent of the child care needs of student parents. IWPR’s report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents, explores the challenges facing 3.9 million student-parents, 57 percent of whom are also low-income adults, enrolled in colleges across the U.S. Costly off-campus care centers—in many states the cost exceeds median income—are unrealistic for many, leaving some student parents devoting up to ing 70 hours per  week to jobs and caregiving, leaving little time for classes or studying. Postsecondary education provides a path to firmer economic stability for low-income families, but without child care on campus, the path often seems more like an uphill climb.

6.       Both businesses and employees in San Francisco are generally in support of paid sick days, as the nation’s first paid sick days legislation sees benefits four years after passage. San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO) went into effect in 2007.  Four years later, IWPR analyzed the effects of the ordinance in the new report, San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees, which surveyed over 700 employers and nearly 1,200 employees.  Despite claims from opposing groups that this kind of legislation is bad for small businesses, IWPR’s survey found that two-thirds of employers in San Francisco support the law, including over 60 percent of employers in the hotel and food service industry.

Jennifer Clark is the Development Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

College Students with Children Need Campuses with Child Care

By Elisa Garcia

The Obstacles Facing Student Parents

For many young women, including myself, the path from grade school to the working world follows an unambiguous narrative, from earning solid grades in high school to gaining admission to a top university to eventually beginning our career of choice or pursuing an advanced degree. Ready to reap the benefits of our mothers’ hard-fought battles for women’s rights—and in the wake of data showing that more women than men pursue higher education, and that young, childless, urban women out-earn their male peers—it seems no obstacle can prevent young women from achieving their goals.

Unfortunately, for undergraduate students who are also parents, and particularly single mothers, the path is not so clear. Despite the fact that there are 3.9 million student parents enrolled as undergraduates in colleges and universities (equal to nearly one-quarter of the 17 million undergraduate students across the country), they face significant barriers to postsecondary success, and institutions are ill-prepared to provide for their needs. According to a recent IWPR report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents,  student parents are more likely to be low-income and working full-time than undergraduate students as a whole.

About half of married student parents and over 40 percent of single student parents spend 40 or more hours per week working, and parents must also devote a significant portion of their time to caregiving. In fact, 68 percent of married parents and 56 percent of single parents spend 30 hours or more per week on care. Further, only about 10 percent of single parents spend no time on care, compared to 60 percent of childless students, and women are more likely than men to spend long hours on care. Some student parents end up spending 70 hours per week or more on their jobs and caretaking duties—attending classes and studying seems like an impossible added burden.

Child Care Crucial to Success of Student Parents

Child care is therefore a critical resource to alleviate some of the stress of caretaking, and ease the strain of juggling competing priorities and obligations. According to surveys conducted at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Michigan, having access to care is one of student parents’ top concerns. Child care facilities not only allow parents peace of mind and give them more time to devote to schoolwork and earning income, the facilities can also help increase retention among a group that is likely to drop out of school. Fifty-seven percent of student parents are low-income, meaning that off-campus care centers— which in many states cost more than average annual rent payments—are not realistic options for many student parents. Though often regarded as a lower-cost alternative to four year universities, community college is often unaffordable. With the added cost of child care, it may be unattainable for many parents.

Child care is one of the most effective ways that colleges and universities can help their student parents to earn a degree, yet most fail to provide on-campus care centers, much less affordable, high-quality care.

Only 49 to 57 percent of two- and four-year public colleges and universities, and a dismal 7 to 9 percent of two- and four-year private colleges and universities offer child care facilities. In fact, according to IWPR calculations, colleges and universities are only providing five percent of the child care slots that student parents need. Even when parents attend universities that offer care, the facilities are less than ideal: many have long waiting lists, few centers provide infant care, and even fewer schools offer care at night or during the summer.

Breaking the Cycle

By not supporting student parents with accessible and affordable child care, colleges and universities are denying a significant fraction of their community a chance to earn an advanced degree and obtain the types of jobs afforded to other undergraduates.

And high-quality child care not only affects parents—research indicates that low-income children significantly benefit from quality early education, and that children of college graduates are in turn more likely to attend college. Supporting low-income student parents is thus an effective way of breaking the cycle of poverty for many families

The policy implications of these findings are clear: by funding and supporting high-quality, campus-based child care, colleges and universities could help to ensure the success of one of their most vulnerable populations, as well as the generations that will follow. Many student parents enter college with heavier burdens than their peers; they deserve as clear a path to family security through a degree and career as anyone else.

For more information, please visit IWPR’s Student Parent Success Initiative webpage.

Elisa Garcia is the Office and Program Coordinator with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The Promise of Postsecondary Education for Parents

by Robert Drago, Ph.D.

Education, and particularly higher education, provides many individuals with hope for a better future. The power of this simple truism was brought home  to me while working on Striking a Balance, when I discovered that the union for hotel workers in San Francisco (HERE Local 2) had developed a scholarship program to fund prep courses for college admissions tests. The catch? The program was for the daughters and sons of union members, and not the members themselves. The members are mainly immigrant women, and their vision for a brighter future involves higher education for their children.

A new fact sheet from IWPR describes a related group—students who are also parents. Anyone who has been a parent knows that it is a lot of work, especially when children are young. To make a commitment to higher education at the same time is nothing short of heroic. And those who do so are not starting on a level playing field: compared to non-parent students, the student parents have lower average college admissions test scores, are less likely to have received four years of English courses in high school, and more often take remedial courses, with each of these disadvantages being most pronounced for single parents. The student parents are also likely to come from families in which their own parents had not received an advanced degree, so have fewer academic role models. And just to top it off, the student parents are around twice as likely as the non-parents to work for pay at least 40 hours per week (over 40 percent of single and married parents do this).

Not surprisingly, this story has the same gender twist found in HERE Local 2: three-quarters of single parents in college are women, and single mothers are twice as likely to report spending at least 30 hours per week caring for dependents.

I don’t envy those who take on the triple burden of parenting, school and full-time employment. But I do understand why they voluntarily make such extraordinary commitments. Like the members of HERE Local 2, higher education offers the student parents hope for a brighter future—for themselves and their children. They deserve our applause and support.

Robert Drago, Ph.D., is the Director of Research with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.