In Many Employers’ Eyes, For-Profit Colleges Are Equivalent to High School

A new study by a group of economists finds that attending a for-profit college is a bad investment.
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The University of Phoenix. (Photo: Ken Wolter/Shutterstock)

The University of Phoenix. (Photo: Ken Wolter/Shutterstock)

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, especially those 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.

Employers evaluate applicants who attended two-year community colleges and those who attended for-profit colleges about equally.

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 advertisements 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.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “In Employers’ Eyes, For-Profit Colleges Are Equivalent to High School.”

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