For-profit trade schools are predicated on getting people to pay, up front, for a short program that will get them a well-paying job. Like any other for-profit school, however, the reality is less than the promise. Students who attend these schools accumulate large debts to pay for their training and ending up with no better job prospects than going to a nonprofit school or, in some cases, simply trying to enter the workforce right from high school.

What makes for-profit trade schools worse is that they tend to target poor urban youth. A study co-authored by a Johns Hopkins sociologist has found that, for poor black youth in Baltimore, for-profit trade schools are almost always a losing proposition.

“The quick jump into for-profit schools really precludes other options that might be less costly and have a bigger return,” says study co-author Stefanie DeLuca, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins. “These young people are vulnerable to the flashy ads for these schools and lured in by how quickly they could get jobs.”

These schools offer training in working class jobs that the students hope can help them move up from their inner-city backgrounds. Many come from very poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. Underserved in primary and secondary schools, many of these kids don’t think they have the opportunity to attend college, and most don’t have particularly lofty goals. They simply want to get working-class jobs that pay the bills so they can avoid ending up on government assistance.

The trade schools offer that, but they do it for the money rather than the desire to offer a valuable education. They are also much more expensive than community colleges and far less flexible in terms of students’ need or desire to change their course of study.

While community colleges actually had lower degree completion rates than the trade schools to which they were compared, students who dropped out of community college spent a lot less on it than those who dropped out of for-profit trade schools.

“Some of these students might have been better suited for a two-year community college, which is a lot less expensive, or some could have gone straight into a four-year program,” DeLuca says. “This is about how young people in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods are trying to navigate the transition to a career with very little information.”