Holding a college degree, it is widely assumed, improves the likelihood that a person will be successful in the labor market. This maxim draws individuals into college across the class spectrum and aspiring students who are low-income or non-white may find themselves enrolled at a for-profit college.
For profit colleges have been getting slammed for their high prices, low bars, and atrocious graduation rates. Now we have another reason to worry that these institutions are doing more harm than good.
Economist Rajeev Darolia and his colleagues sent out 8,914 fictitious resumes and waited to see if they received a response. They were interested in whether attending a for-profit college actually enhanced job opportunities, as ads for such schools claim, so they varied the level of education on the resumes and whether the applicant attended a for-profit or community college.
It turns out that employers evaluate applicants who attended two-year community colleges and those who attended for-profit colleges about equally. Community colleges, in other words, open just as many doors to possibility as for-profit ones.
Darolia and his colleagues then tested whether employers displayed a preference for applicants who went to for-profit colleges versus applicants with no college at all. They didn’t. Employers treated people with high school diplomas and coursework at for-profit colleges equivalently.
Being economists, they staidly conclude that enrolling in a for-profit college is a bad investment.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.