For-profit universities are growing, but at what cost?

| May 6, 2010

As Jeannie reported, the for-profit university industry is experiencing serious growth. Maybe it’s in the name of the all-mighty dollar, but recent practices by some for-profit universities have caused more eyebrow raising than finding Heidi Montag in a library. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported on the newest fresh meat recruiters are sniffing out: the homeless.

These universities are largely funded by federal grants and loans, financial awards that are routinely given to the disadvantaged. Schools like the Drake College of Business (for aspiring medical and dental assistants) and the ubiquitous University of Phoenix have been pulled into the spotlight as both have recruited at homeless shelters, looking to boost their admissions numbers. One recruiter said, “Borrowing by the homeless to pay tuition “is no different from a middle-class student who has to take out a loan.””

As someone who has worked at homeless shelters, I’m not sure how I feel about this. For one thing, mental illness is extremely high in this population. Many of the clients I worked with received government assistance but without having too many places to spend it, and having little financial literacy, I saw many of them squander their money… or at least not be very responsible with it. Sure, these universities are offering them something, but here’s what I want to know: What’s the attrition rate? How many homeless people finish their programs? Of those who do finish, what do they do after they graduate?

Finally, one more question for you… Is this exploitation or are these universities merely supplying a needed service?