How For-Profit Colleges Impact Black Women

For-profit colleges exist to make money. Some have been accused of predatory practices. Learn how for-profit colleges impact Black women.

portrait of Bernard Grant, Ph.D.
by Bernard Grant, Ph.D.

Published July 1, 2022

Reviewed by Pamela “Safisha Nzingha” Hill, Ph.D.

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How For-Profit Colleges Impact Black Women
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For-profit colleges only account for 9% of student enrollment across all U.S. school sectors. Yet these institutions account for "17% of student debt and one-third of student loan defaults," according to a 2021 report by the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), a nonprofit advocacy organization.

These institutions have been accused of predatory practices that target minority communities in particular — especially Black women, who enroll in for-profit colleges at higher rates than other groups.

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Overall, according to an American Association of University Women report, women carry two-thirds of the $1.7 trillion student loan debt in the U.S. And Black borrowers are most impacted negatively by student loans, according to the report "How Black Women Experience Student Debt."

Being at the intersection of these two groups, Black women face a heavy share of the student loan burden.

What Is a For-Profit College?

For-profit colleges exist to make money. They are typically privately owned and operated, and decisions are usually made by investors, not educators.

Well-known for-profit institutions include the University of Phoenix, Full Sail University, Grand Canyon University, Walden University, and DeVry University.

Students are drawn to for-profit institutions with promises of fast-track programs, flexible hours, high employment outcomes, and name recognition.

However, many for-profit colleges routinely fail to deliver the valuable education and career outcomes promised. Some for-profit colleges are accredited, though many award degrees that may not be recognized by some employers.

A 2011 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that students at for-profit colleges experience higher unemployment and "idleness" rates, as well as lower earnings from employers six years after entering these programs compared to students from nonprofit schools.

How For-Profits Target Black Women

Several news outlets have reported for-profit colleges' race-based marketing strategies. In 2015 and 2018, Strayer University released television commercials featuring celebrities like Steve Harvey and Queen Latifah delivering motivational speeches.

Both commercials feature many shots of joyful Black people in educational settings.

In 2012, a Senate investigation exposed the coded language for-profit recruiters of Vatterott College used during the recession to target potential minority students.

During a presentation titled "Who Are Our Students?" Vatterott College trained recruiters to target students because of their "vulnerabilities." Recruiters learned coded terms that included "recent incarceration," "drug rehabilitation," "pregnant ladies," "welfare mom w/kids."

The 2021 SBPC report showed that for-profit colleges built campuses in minority communities, allowing the colleges to thrive by targeting low-income workers, unemployed people, and those eager to gain financial stability.

As a result, majority-Black ZIP codes are 75% more likely to host for-profit colleges when compared to majority-white ZIP codes, which are 30% less likely to host for-profit colleges.

The SBPC report describes the location strategy of for-profit colleges as a form of reverse redlining, meaning these institutions offer unfair terms specifically to communities of color that can leave these students with excessive debt.

Additionally, according to the NAACP, Black student borrowers typically owe 50% more student loan debt than white borrowers at graduation. Four years later, Black student borrowers typically owe 100% more than white borrowers.

Former Students File Lawsuit Against School

With Black student debt reportedly tripling over the last 12 years, many Americans see the student loan debt crisis as a civil rights issue.

Black women carry much of those financial burdens. This can create barriers for those who want to buy homes, raise children, and start businesses.

In January, former students of Walden University filed a class-action lawsuit against the for-profit institution for its practices that they claimed locked them deep in student debt with little to no employment prospects.

Filed in Maryland, the lawsuit alleges that Walden University extended the capstone process, so students would have to re-enroll for additional semesters, spending more time in school and paying more tuition.

The lawsuit accused Walden of reverse redlining, claiming the school targeted Black and female students, overcharging them by over $28.5 million.

As with previous lawsuits against Walden University, the college says the accusations are baseless and inflammatory and claims to have succeeded in its mission to serve a diverse population. The school claims to have awarded more doctorates to Black and female students than other U.S. colleges.

Questions to Ask Before Attending a For-Profit College

For-profit colleges have been scrutinized — some accused of predatory practices — as they prioritize making profits for owners, shareholders, and investors.

Students who want to attend a for-profit college should lead with caution and ask a range of questions:

Is This College Accredited?

Depending on your desired profession, your degree may hold little value if the college does not have accreditation. Many employers require that their employees earn degrees from accredited colleges.

Does the School Offer Financial Assistance?

Not all for-profit schools offer federal financial assistance, though many offer financial aid services, similar to nonprofit colleges.

The government dispenses federal loans, which come with fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans, among other benefits.

Private loans, however, carry higher interest rates, as these loans are financed by banks, credit unions, and other state-based organizations.

What Is the Graduation Rate of This School?

A graduation rate means the percentage of students who complete their program. So students in four-year programs should have completed their program in four years.

All schools should have their graduation rates available. Just ask! If a college refuses to share graduation rates or other important information, this is a warning sign that may indicate a risky environment.

Should I Attend a Community College Instead?

Local community colleges are likely to have similar programs as the for-profit colleges that interest you and are likely to provide a higher quality education at cheaper tuition rates.

Tuition at a for-profit school may be much higher than the tuition of a nearby community college, where educators make decisions. Keep in mind that at for-profit colleges, investors primarily make decisions.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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