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Understanding For-Profit College and Community College Choice through Rational Choice


by Constance Iloh & William G. Tierney — 2014

Background/Context: Scarce research has been conducted examining why students choose to attend higher priced for-profit institutions over community colleges. The authors suggest that increased national concern over proprietary higher education warrants an in-depth comparative case study of the choice factors utilized by for-profit and community college students.

Research Question: The research questions guiding this analysis are: (a) Why and how do students choose to attend for-profit colleges and community colleges? (b) What factors were important in their decision? (c) What implications do these results have for rational choice and college choice theory?

Setting: Data were collected at one community college and one for-profit college in California that had similar vocational programs.

Subjects: A total of 137 for-profit and community college students (75 for profit, 62 community college) enrolled in a vocational nursing or surgical technician associate’s degree program agreed to participate.

Research Design: The authors examine student college choice factors through a case study. The findings were developed from interviews, surveys, and focus groups.

Findings: The authors found that for-profit and community college students held varying conceptions of costs and benefits as they pertained to college choice factors. Three particular dimensions were highlighted in student responses—short-term and long-term gains, risks, and uncertainty.

Conclusions: This study illuminates the nuanced factors and goals that informed student college choice decisions. Understanding these distinct college choice considerations could help researchers, practitioners, and institutional leaders develop measures for institutional effectiveness and student success.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 8, 2014, p. 1-34
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17509, Date Accessed: 10/22/2017 6:07:37 AM

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About the Author
  • Constance Iloh
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    CONSTANCE ILOH is a PhD Candidate at the University of Southern California in the Rossier School of Education’s Urban Education Policy Program and Researcher in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. She received a master’s degree in Business Management from Wake Forest University. Her research addresses two primary areas: (1) privatization in higher education and (2) equity, access, and the experiences of low-income students and students of color in postsecondary education. Constance’s work primarily focuses on students and practices within the spaces of for-profit colleges and universities. Her dissertation explores the nature of Black student participation in the for-profit higher education sector.She has authored and co-authored several peer-reviewed articles regarding the privatization of higher education including “A Comparison of For-Profit and Community Colleges’ Admissions Practices,” which appears in AACRAO’s College and University journal.
  • William Tierney
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM G. TIERNEY is university professor and Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education and Co-Director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California and Past President of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Dr. Tierney is committed to informing policies and practices related to educational equity. He is currently involved in a project to develop and evaluate an interactive web-enhanced computer game for low-income youth that will boost high school students’ college aspirations and equip players with knowledge about preparing for and succeeding in college. His most recent publications include: The Impact of Culture on Organizational Decision-Making and New Players, Different Game: Understanding the Rise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities.
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