Concluding _Lower Ed_: the epilogue

With this post we conclude our reading of Tressie McMillan Cottom‘s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (publisher; Amazon). Here we’ll discuss the book’s epilogue.

As usual I’ll begin with a short summary, followed by questions.

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 As a quick reminder, you can find all posts in this reading right here.

One note: humor site Cracked actually addressed for-profits.


Here professor Cottom summarizes and synthesizes the book’s argument.  She situates her points in the historical context of privatization and employers outsourcing training (180).  With financialization added to the mix we end up with “high debt, loan defaults, regret, broken public trust, low wages, and little to no mobility from Lower Ed to Higher Ed.” (181)


Lower ed participates in and contributes to the modern economy.  Their rapid growth is “an indicator of social and economic inequalities and, at the same time, are perpetuators of those inequalities.”  They form a negative insurance program.  (181) . “They are profiting from inequality.

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” (187) . Lower ed also focuses on lower income black women, treating them differently than other demographics (186-7).

For-profits offer credentials, but those “are riskier than most traditional degrees.”  That’s because traditional higher ed generally doesn’t welcome lower ed’s transfer credits, “trap[ping] those with for-profit credits or credentials in an educational ghetto.” (181-2) . “Credentialing in the new economy has to date taken from the have-nots to give to the haves.” (186)

The epilogue concludes with recommendations for ways to respond to the for-profit sector, primarily policy changes driven by social movements.  Cottom cites Black Lives Matter as an example of a movement addressing education, along with the more narrowly focused Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee.  Fight for 15, a movement aimed at boosting minimum wages to $15 US, addresses the job insecurity that leads many people to for-profits (183-5).  Free public college tuition would help, but leaves the economic underpinnings untouched (186).


  1. Do you see political traction for these suggested movements to address the for-profit education sector?
  2. For-profits declined sharply under the Obama administration.  Do you think they’ll regroup under Trump?
  3. Looking back on the whole book, how has this added to your understanding of for-profit higher education?

With this we have finished our reading of Lower Ed.  Thank you for reading with us!

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Later this week will be a blog post asking about the next reading.

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Our reading so far: the plan; introduction; chapter 1; chapter 2; chapter 3; chapter 4; chapter 5; chapter 6.

(thanks to Ceredwyn for the Cracked link; photo by WDjoPhotography)

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4 Responses to Concluding _Lower Ed_: the epilogue

  1. 2383010715Wp# says:

    Bryan, speaking of humor… you may remember this one:
    University implicated in checks-for-degrees scheme. (2004, July 14). The Onion. Retrieved from

  2. App Accessibility Experiences in Higher Education says:

    Thanks Bryan for these tough questions LOL! I had plenty of time to digest the beginning chapters ,where I felt almost paralyzed by the lack of ethics from the admissions staff at many for profits, especially the provoking, coddling and almost intimidating tactics used on potential students. I didn’t really expect to feel this unexpected queasiness from some other chapters too. The big business of college education seems to be a roulette game, when we play we ought to really understand the house (college) almost always wins big $. It is totally disturbing to see how out of control this risky game is played ,even more so today, than what I remember from my university years. I feel afraid for the students now more than ever.

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