Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Proprietary Preference

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Proprietary Preference

Article excerpt

One of the surprises emerging from Black Issues's analysis of the top one hundred institutions conferring degrees on people of color was in the rise of proprietary colleges as major players -- particularly in the fields of engineering-related technologies, computer science, and business.

In fact, the top producer of minority baccalaureates in engineering-related technologies was a California campus of the ITT Technical Institutes in California (see page 56 for chart).

The number two and three institutions conferring bachelor's degrees in computer and information science on African Americans were also proprietary schools -- Strayer College and DeVry Institute of Technology (see page 52 for chart).

Why are these schools so popular with students of color? Educators say proprietary schools have identified an untapped market -- recent high school graduates of color who want a more practical education in a shorter time than that offered by traditional four-year institutions: and older, more mature minority employees who view these institutions as an accessible means of attaining the degrees they need to advance in their careers.

Observers also say proprietary schools are attractive in today's booming job market because they boast good job placement rates and can tout faculty members who actually work in the fields they teach.

"Proprietary schools like DeVry and ITT are making significant inroads among minority students who are turned off by traditional educational institutions who put up barriers to entrance," says Harold Lundy, executive director of the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs. "A whole segment of students has been written off as uneducable because they don't have the requisite score on the ACT or SAT. But these institutions are more open and amenable to inner-city students."

Others echo Lundy's assessment.

"Proprietary schools are a pragmatic choice for a lot of people," says John Lee, president of JBL Associates, a higher education consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland. Lee says proprietary schools are attractive to many minority students because they are located in major cities, often near the neighborhoods where students live or work. Moreover, since many of the institutions offer classes year round, students can graduate in less time and get a job faster.

"These students are focused on the fact that they need to have a stable job making good money," Lee says. "These are not students looking for the quintessential college experience -- hanging out in the fraternity or sorority house. They don't have the luxury of traveling to Europe for a semester. They need to make money fast, not someday."

His comments are echoed by Dr. Clifford Adelman, a senior researcher at the U.S. Department of Education now on loan to The College Board: "Some of [the proprietary schools] were crooks, rip-off artists, vultures -- particularly on minority populations, particularly women. But the big chains like DeVry and ITT have gotten good."

However. some educators are concerned that proprietary school students are shortchanging their careers. They warn that today's booming economy, with employers clamoring to fill many computer programming or business management jobs, won't last forever. They add that students with a more broad-based education from traditional institutions will fare better in the long run.

"People in the eighties thought engineering was a foolproof career," said Dr. Reginald Wilson, a retired American Council on Education senior scholar. "But waves of people lost their jobs when defense companies downsized. The vagaries of the economy will make technical skills obsolete. I believe that a person with a well-rounded education will be better off in the long-run."

Indeed, many college administrators contacted for this article expressed a vigorous skepticism about the quality of education of proprietary schools, referring to an era before the Department of Education cracked down on many trade schools that operated as diploma mills with high default rates. …

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