Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Secrets Behind Their Success

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Secrets Behind Their Success

Article excerpt

Attracting and graduating minorities in large numbers, for-profit universities offer access, convenience and some risk.

In June, Robert L. Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, gave the commencement address for one of the largest predominantly Black colleges in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Johnson told his overwhelmingly minority audience that they had accomplished more than the average graduate.

"You've done everything every student has done, but you did it while working, while taking care of your kids, while going to church programs, while being part of the community, serving in the military, being a single parent, having to deal with elderly parents, having to take care of extended family," he said.

Johnson's message concerned the virtues of entrepreneurship - that people work harder when they are working for themselves. But he wasn't speaking to graduates of Howard University or the University of the District of Columbia. His words were directed towards graduates of Strayer University. Founded in 1892, it is a for-profit university experiencing fast growth, and Johnson sits on the Strayer Education Inc.'s board of directors.

For-profit schools have a long history of embracing new technologies and underserved populations. In the 1850s, they opened doors to women - who were largely banned from traditional colleges and taught the use of newly developed writing devices called typewriters.

In Chicago in 1931, Dr. Herman DeVry opened a trade school focused on electronics, motion pictures and radio. During World War II, the Army Ak Corps sent students to DeVry to learn the new skills critical for national defense. It became one of the first schools approved for government aid under the G.I. Bill.

Between WWII and the 1980s, for-profit coEeges made up a small but stable segment of postsecondary education. Thousands of local, family-owned institutions taught skills like cosmetology, photography and truck driving. National chains like ITT Tech and Lincoln Tech offered electronics, heating and refrigeration and automotive repair.

However, in the 1990s, for-profits were revolutionized by the mounting demand for computer skills and a massive infusion of investment capital. Today, approximately 400,000 students attend forprofit schools in California alone, and about 2 million are enrolled nationwide.

The Benefits

Strayer's tuition of around $12,000 a year is about half that of a private university. But other educational options are cheaper still. For example, in the nation's capital region, students can attend UDC, Northern Virginia Community College or Prince George's Community College for about a third of Strayer's cost.

But for the graduate students in Dr. EUIe G. Awa's required class on introductory research methodology, Strayer is a perfect fit. The university's Washington, D.C., campus is an office building convenient to several Metro stations. Many classes start at 5:45 p.m., right after work

Awa is warm, lively and engaging, but she did not write any of the course materials. Many for-profits use software packages, curriculums and accompanying textbooks created by major publishers. This allows proven educational materials to be presented in a uniform (and economical) manner. Awa discusses the same materials a student would use taking the class online, and students can turn in assignments and take tests over the Internet.

The class is small - about 14 students all Black or Asian. They actively participate, and none indicated that the quality seemed any different than what they had experienced at schools like UDC, West Virginia State University or the University of Maryland.

According to Margaret Weusi, who is pursuing a master's degree in public administration while working for the federal government, what Strayer really offers her is access, convenience and a minimum of administrative hassles. …

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