Black Students in 21st Century Higher Education: A Closer Look at ForProfit and Community Colleges (Editor's Commentary)

By Iloh, Constance; Toldson, Ivory A. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Black Students in 21st Century Higher Education: A Closer Look at ForProfit and Community Colleges (Editor's Commentary)


Iloh, Constance, Toldson, Ivory A., The Journal of Negro Education


Most of the research on Black students in higher education today reflects their educational trajectories at predominantly White public and private four-year nonprofit institutions and historically Black colleges and universities. While this scholarship has contributed to our understanding of educational experiences and inequalities, it does not adequately capture the reality and scope of Black students in the 21st century higher education landscape.

More Black students are enrolling in college and at record rates in the for-profit and community college sector. In 1982 college enrollment after high school was 40 percent for Blacks compared with 53 percent for White students (Baum, 2013). In 2011 these rates were nearly the same, as 65 percent of Blacks enrolled compared with 69 percent of Whites (Baum, 2013). Since 1995, 82 percent of new White enrollments have gone to the 468 most selective colleges, while 68 percent of new African American enrollments have gone to the two-year open-access schools (forprofit and community colleges; Camevale & Strohl, 2013). Some states boast exceedingly high numbers. California community colleges and for-profit colleges account for close to 70 percent of Black student enrollment in postsecondary education (Rooks, 2013). This commentary serves as a close examination of the community college and for-profit sector that continue to play an instrumental role in shaping access, equity, and educational outcomes for Black students in contemporary American higher education.

Community Colleges: An Overview

Community colleges in the United States have been described many ways over the years, as "democracy's college," the "open door college," and the "people's college" (Pusser & Levin, 2009). Community colleges offer a variety of services, including academic and career counseling, tutoring, and developmental education, as part of their effort to respond to a wide range of student readiness (Iloh, in press). Today community colleges serve a wide variety of functions in the educational marketplace and their importance in the economic development of this country is well-documented (Morrice, 2011). Recently, as a part of his effort to build a stronger foundation that will allow Americans to lead in the global economy, President Barack Obama announced an initiative to strengthen our nation's community colleges, and called for five million additional graduates by 2020 (Brandon, 2009).

Community college students are usually accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis, up to the capacity of the institution (Bailey, Badway & Gumport, 2001). In addition to their commitment to meeting their local communities' educational needs, community colleges seek to serve all who have the need and desire to participate in postsecondary education (Gleazer, 1980; Mullin, 2010). These open admissions policies have contributed to their high demand as well as concern over their funding and capacity constraints. The institutions are of particular importance as they are the primary source of postsecondary education opportunity for students of color, low-income students, and students who attended poorly funded high schools (Rosenbaum, Deil-Amen & Person, 2009). Unfortunately, many community colleges today face a funding crisis, enrollment growth that strains capacity, unsustainable rates of developmental education, unpredictable shifts in labor market demand, growing competition for enrollments and revenue from for-profit providers, and a loss of leadership of daunting proportions through retirements (Pusser & Levin, 2009).

Education researchers and policymakers often debate about the role and utility of community colleges. Advocates of community colleges assert that these institutions are usually more affordable, provide the option of transfer, and students can earn short-term certificates or associate degrees that prepare them for specific occupations. Proponents have also argued that community colleges serve a vital role for some student populations (Dougherty, 1994; Morrice, 2011). …

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