For-profit colleges wrong solution

For-profit colleges are not the answer to the rising cost of higher education.

This increase is having a disastrous impact on many poor and middle income Americans, and it’s disastrous for Mexican-American and other Latino communities. Over time, this trend will destroy all hope for millions of young people.

Low-income students made up half of all the students in for-profit colleges, with minorities making up 37 percent of that population.

To earn a bachelor’s degree from a for-profit school costs almost four times what one from a state university costs, according to the Education Trust. But despite these exorbitant expenses, for-profit schools still scoop up the federal dollars.

“In the 2008-09 academic year, for-profit colleges received $4.3 billion in Pell Grants — quadruple the amount they received just ten years earlier … and approximately $20 billion in federal student loans,” the Education Trust noted in a 2010 report called “Subprime Opportunity: The Unfulfilled Promise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities.” “As a result of this large federal investment, the average for-profit school derives 66 percent of its revenues from federal student aid.”

These for-profit colleges are indenturing our students. About 95 percent of students starting for-profit colleges take out federal student loans compared to 13 percent at community colleges.

Tuition is the main barrier to minorities getting a higher education. Private nonprofit universities also charge an exorbitant amount, and even some state schools are increasingly out of reach. We need to offer a competing nonprofit model so the cost to students can come down to affordable levels.

Quality low-cost education for working class students is within our reach. A preliminary study suggests that the cost of tuition for an alternative nonprofit could be as low as $1,000 per year for undergraduate students.

The cost of public and private universities is driven by lush campuses and inflated administrator and faculty salaries. For-profit schools are even less dedicated to education, spending only 17.2 percent of their revenues on instruction. In 2009, the CEOs of major for-profit education companies took home, on average, $7.3 million.

A better model is a nonprofit university solely dedicated to teaching students.

We could hire adjunct faculty members from prestigious universities as well as retired college and high school faculty members.

We could run academic centers out of storefronts or rented space in public colleges and universities.

And we could offer degrees online. Almost every new computer is capable of running Skype, through which we could lecture to a group of students and greatly reduce costs.

Working-class and middle-class students are being priced out of higher education. We must make it affordable to them.

Rodolfo F. Acuna is a professor at Cal State Northridge. He can be reached at

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