We continue 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 chapter two, “The Beauty College and the Technical College.”
I’ll begin with a short summary, followed by questions.
As a quick reminder, you can find all posts in this reading right here.
Chapter Two: The Beauty College and the Technical College
This chapter divides the for-profit sector into two branches, based on student circumstances and curriculum.
It begins by continuing the book’s autobiographical thread, describing the author’s experience as a trainer for a telecommunications company, then shifting to sales (not admissions!) for a for-profit beauty college. Cottom places both of those entities in the economic context of the late 1990s/early 2000s, with rising financialization and rapidly advancing technology.
One key point: the beauty college carefully shapes its services to take advantage of its market’s gender, race, and class status, or “cumulative disadvantage”. (50)
Then Cottom contrasts the beauty college with a technical college, describing very different leaders and atmosphere. The technical institution is more financialized, with a high pressure environment. “The Technical College spent more time telling me about regulations because it had been sued or censured many times for violating them.” (60)
The chapter’s second part analyzes and teases apart the differences between these two subsets of for-profit higher ed, while continuing to distinguish between for-profit and non-profit post-secondary education. Many people (and employers) fail to distinguish between for-profit and non-profit schools (58). For-profit institutional leaders tend to come from finance or business backgrounds with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, while PhDs from other fields usually leader non-profits (62-3). For-profits are a more appealing choice for people struggling with the new economy’s labor market pressures than are non-profits (66).
Yet for-profits are not a unitary sector. Beauty colleges tend to be locally or regionally owned, and marketed more towards women of color, while technical colleges are national, Wall Street-traded chains, recruiting white men. Beauty college students tend to be poorer and less academically credentialed than their technical peers (63). Summing up by exemplars, and following Bowen and Bok’s river of education in life metaphor:
[O]ne river carries middle-class, white-collar workers to the MBA program at Capelle and the poor black mother of three who is close to maxing our her welfare eligibility to the cosmetology certificate at Empire Beauty School. The Beauty School students and the Technical College students typically don’t share a social class, an income bracket, or the same kind of social and cultural capital. All of our traditional means of thinking about those students as a single group break down. (65; emphases added)
The chapter concludes by pointing ahead to the rest of the book, indicating a focus on how people decide to attend these institutions.
- Does this chapter’s profile describe beauty and technical colleges in your area?
- How does online learning fit into this picture? I’m thinking of the challenge of the time trap (66), and how online classes are more convenient than face to face ones.
- Can you think of similarly deep divides between non-profit higher education institutions?
- Cottom urges “more such research and data” on how the new economy shapes educational paths (66). Can anyone recommend good examples?
Next Monday, May 29, we move on to Chapter 9, “The Beauty College and the Technical College.”