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Low-Income Students More Likely to Attend For-Profits

A brief released today by the Institute for Higher Education Policy finds that in the last 10 years, low-income students have increasingly being drawn to proprietary colleges and now attend at four times the rate of other students.

Students between ages 18 and 26 whose total household income is near or below the federal poverty level are likely to be overrepresented at for-profit institutions and underrepresented at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions, according to Portraits: Initial College Attendance of Low-Income Young Adults by IHEP, an independent, nonprofit public-policy research organization in Washington.

Community colleges are the first choice for about half of students at all income levels who pursue postsecondary education. Of the remaining students, 37 percent of those who didn't grow up in poverty enroll in four-year public or private institutions, and 5 percent enroll in for-profits. Of the low-income students, 19 percent go to a for-profit institution, and 21 percent enroll in a public or private college. Females who grew up in poverty were twice as likely to attend for-profits as males, the brief reveals.

Greg Kienzl, director of research and lead author of the brief, says he was quite surprised to see the shift over time of who is attending what kind of institution. While 20 percent of students who grew up in poverty enrolled in four-year public institutions in 2000, just 15 percent did in 2008, according to the report.

The growing dependence on community colleges and for-profit institutions may have unintended adverse effects on low-income young adults' completion and post-college prospects, the report says.

The new gainful-employment regulations released last week were developed in part to reign in aggressive recruiting of low-income students by career colleges that often leave students deep in debt with poor job prospects. The sector has come under criticism for preying on minority and low-income communities to enroll students who are not prepared for the rigor of the work and drop out at high rates before completing a degree. Without the credential, many default on their student loans at a higher rate than students who attend other types of colleges.

While this IHEP brief focuses on where low-income student go to college, the next in the series will look at financial aid and learning outcomes.

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