We have a theoretical conundrum when it comes to explaining the expansion of for-profit colleges. Gilbert, Saunders, and Stoddard (2013) sum up this conundrum as a puzzle of why so many would self-select (Chung 2012) into expensive, narrow career training with contested outcomes.
That puzzle limits effective policy interventions. As you can see in the political theater of gainful employment regulation debates, interventions are largely targeted at individuals and institutions. I have argued that may not be the most efficacious level of intervention. Humans are difficult intervention points. They insist on agency. It can be hard on one’s analytical models. Institutions may be a better bet. However, as this debate has shown, it turns out it is both politically and practically hard to implement institution-specific regulations. Instead, a fuller understanding of how social and group processes incentivize for-profit enrollment might lead us to better policy interventions. It’s a level of analysis largely absent from policy discussions. That is an effect of econometric models popular in education and sociology. They are almost always going to lead to individual interventions.
That’s my work at the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research this Fall. I’ll try to check in on occasion about the development of the policy white paper my work here will produce.