For-Profit Colleges and Racial Justice

Perpetuating Racial Inequality Under the Guise of Higher Education

Our society is continuing to wake up to the realities of systemic racism across all areas of society, including in higher education.

There is no question that one of the greatest contributors to racial inequities in our higher education system is the predatory for-profit college industry.

In fact, the debt associated with for-profit colleges is not only predatory, but racist.

The Project on Predatory Lending represents over one million former students defrauded by for-profit colleges. Their personal testimonies leave no doubt that this is an industry that systematically targets prospective Black and Latinx students, encourages them to take out federal student loans, and leaves students with a worthless degree and debt that they are unable to repay.

This is not a new development. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission, multiple state attorneys general, and numerous private actions have documented the industry’s lawless behavior. 

At this time of reckoning, we must act to stop the racist tactics used to exploit the promise of higher education to another generation of Black and Latinx Americans.

Perpetuating Racial Inequality Under the Guise of Higher Education


These data points suggest that, in the aggregate, participation in higher education by African Americans is actually entrenching, rather than erasing, existing patterns of inequality that are the result of longstanding racism in the United States. The for-profit college industry is an important piece of this problem. It is as predatory as any payday or subprime lender, and is disproportionately responsible for racial disparities in education debt.


African Americans and other people of color are disproportionately enrolled in for-profit colleges. Black and Latino students make up less than one third of all college students, but represent nearly half of all those attending for-profit institutions.  In 2015, more than half of all African American college students were low income (qualified for Pell grants). A student receiving a Pell grant is three times more likely to attend a for-profit college than someone not qualifying for such aid.



Outcomes across the board are extremely bad for this sector. Less than one in five students who enroll in a for-profit school will ever graduate. Less than a quarter of the money for-profit students borrow to pay for their education actually goes to their education. The rest goes to slick marketing and advertising, executive compensation, and shareholder profit. And studies show that those who do graduate from for-profit colleges do worse in the labor market than those with only a high school education.


Department of Education statistics show that close to 70% of African Americans who borrow to attend a for-profit college default on their loans within ten years. Because the industry targets its worthless products in explicitly racial terms, the debt associated with for-profit colleges is not only predatory, it’s racist.


For-Profit College Industry Spin

This predatory industry compounds the effects of the entrenched, systemic racism that has unfairly disadvantaged some while advantaging others.  It closes the path to the middle class for thousands of African-American students simply trying to do what we are all told to do, which is to pursue higher education.

The industry also hides behind racial tropes in order to oppose—and often, defeat—any attempt to regulate its predatory conduct. For example, the industry encouraged member schools to attack the “gainful employment” regulation as “academic redlining.”  It consistently elides the distinction between historically black colleges and universities and so-called “minority serving institutions.” The former are authentic cornerstones of the African-American community, forged at a time when higher education was legally denied to people on the basis of race, and continuing today as important forces for education and racial justice.  The latter are profit-seeking corporations targeting people on the basis of race.

Image 5

Using Manipulation and Lies to Cover Up Corporate Greed

For-profit college groups manipulate government data to lie to the public about the harm they cause to minority students.




Our lawsuit, Britt v. Florida Career College (FCC), shows how one for-profit college uses racially targeted advertising to peddle a false image of success to people of color, and uses predatory recruiting practices to encourage Black students to enroll in its fraudulent programs. The school promotes images of success and opportunity, even though only one in seventeen FCC programs led to gainful employment under the federal measure, and the company saddles students with debt they cannot hope to repay.

This is not only racist and wrong, it’s illegal.

A clear and growing threat

History shows us that for-profit colleges don’t wind down during economic crises, they thrive. 

During the 2008 mortgage crisis, for-profit colleges saw their enrollments triple. When more people are out of work, for-profit colleges capitalize on their desperation to obtain training and find new employment. 

There is already evidence that many for-profit colleges are ramping up their marketing, and targeting recently-unemployed people during the COVID-19 crisis.

Legal Action

Kareem Britt, Monique Laurence v. Florida Career College

A lawsuit asserting that Florida Career College targets students based on race, focusing its predatory marketing and deceptive recruitment practices on Black students, exacerbating the racial wealth gap.

Tiffeny Anderson, Dianna Bond, Veronica Boyd, Crystal Larkin, Sharonda Nixon, Barbara Turner, and Shirley Washington v. Virginia College

A lawsuit asserting that Virginia College engaged in “reverse redlining” in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by targeting African Americans.

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mississippi Center for Justice, North Carolina Justice Center, Project on Predatory Student Lending, Southern Poverty Law Center

Letter to Senators Doug Jones, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Catherine Cortez Masto proposing reform to address inequities in higher education.

"Despite the claims that for-profit colleges serve an unmet need, are more nimble than stodgy traditional colleges, and increase access to poor and minority students, for-profit colleges target and thrive off of inequality."

The Atlantic

"Black Americans who recently graduated college owe close to twice as much on their student loans as whites, a racial gap that has climbed nearly 14-fold over the past 15 years."



December 2020

Combating Exploitative Education | Student Borrower Protection Center

For-profit schools have exploited the long-held belief that higher education is the key to a stable and meaningful job while simultaneously failing to deliver on promises of providing a quality education or enhancing the employment prospects of their students.

July 2020

Unequal Burden: Black Borrowers and the Student Loan Debt Crisis | NYC Consumer and Worker Protection

In New York City, data has shown that Black New Yorkers have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19: higher rates of infection; higher rates of death; higher risk of income and job loss relative to other New Yorkers. National data shows the same disproportionate impact.

September 9, 2019

The System is Rigged: Student Debt and the Racial Wealth Gap | Roosevelt Institute

Today, a new report co-released by Demos, The Century Foundation, and The Roosevelt Institute, Bridging Progressive Policy Debates: How Student Debt and the Racial Wealth Gap Reinforce Each Other, explores the connections between America’s persistent racial wealth gap and our crippling $1.6 trillion student debt crisis.

For-Profit African-American Students

Taking Financial Advantage of Minority Students

African-American students attending for-profit colleges borrow student loans at significantly higher rates than public institutions.

Graph 3

Targeting Minority Students for Corporate Profits

Predatory for-profit colleges coerce minority students into borrowing more in student loans than they would to attend a public university.


May 8, 2020

Students Call College That Got Millions In Coronavirus Relief 'A Sham' | NPR

A for-profit college received millions of dollars from the federal government to help low-income students whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak, but that same school, Florida Career College (FCC), is also accused of defrauding students.

April 30, 2020

For-Profit College Set To Collect $17 Million In Federal Stimulus Cash Is Sued For Predatory Practices | Forbes

Florida Career College, a for-profit two-year vocational school, received $17 million in federal coronavirus relief money. It was one of dozens of for-profits slated to receive a total of $1.1 billion in grants included in the $14 billion Congress set aside for institutions of higher education in the CARES Act.

February 24, 2019

California's Black Students Lag in College Completion Despite Some Gains | The Mercury News

Black students in California have shown progress in enrolling and completing college in recent years but still lag behind other racial and ethnic groups.

RJ page image 1

Focused on Targeted Advertising, Not Education

Public records indicate Corinthian Colleges spent over $600,000 placing ads on BET in a two-week period.

Tell Us What You Know

Do you know about discrimination happening in the for-profit college sector?