If You Choose a For-Profit College, Choose Wisely
For-profit colleges are suddenly under the gun after the ITT Technical Institute meltdown. Not all are bad, but be careful in your choice.
“ITT Technical Institute Shuts Down After Government Cut Off New Funding.” The headline in the Wall Street Journal made me sick. Since last September, the notion of a for-profit college has been under constant attack.
To say that I was in utter shock is an understatement. No, I’m not a current or past student. In fact, I have no real ties to the school beyond the few folks I know from high school who went there. Still, I couldn’t help but think about the employees who were laid off – and even worse, the students who have invested years of their time and hard-earned money in their programs.
Due to ITT Tech’s abrupt closure, approximately 40,000 students were displaced from their so-called “collegiate home” and left to pick up the pieces. The writing was on the wall for several years, but the end was rather sudden. Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has offered some guidance, and students with federal loans may qualify to have those loans discharged. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that they still have to start from scratch with their higher education pursuits.
And what about the students who paid out-of-pocket or funded their education with private loans for a for-profit college? That cash is gone forever, but some private lenders may be willing to work with you.
Given this sad turn of events at one for-profit institution, is it still a good idea to pursue an education in any of the other for-profit institutions that are still in business?
I won’t take sides in this debate, but I can offer some red flags to look out for:
1. Overly Aggressive Marketing Tactics
Some recruiters at for-profit colleges remind me of over-the-top used-car salesmen. They pressure prospects into enrolling ASAP (as if the college was going to stop accepting applicants in the blink of eye) to meet their sales goals.
2. Inflated Job-Placement Rates
You should also beware of schools that boast ridiculous job-placement rates. After all, we all know that no job is guaranteed, no matter how qualified you are.
3. Targeting a Specific Demographic
It’s not uncommon for a college or university to have minority resources and support groups.
However, preying on a specific demographic is enough to make you wonder if there’s some underlying motive.
Perhaps it’s to take advantage of those who are cash-strapped, have academic issues, or have limited options for some other reason?
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average salary of the graduating class of 2015 was $50,219. So if a pushy recruiter is promising you a six-figure salary the moment you cross the stage, chances are that he’s full of it.
5. Guaranteed Admission
The competition amongst applicants of reputable institutions is fierce because they won’t just let anyone through the door. The promise of “guaranteed admission” flies in the face of that.
6. Overpriced Tuition and Fees
The College Board offers a detailed breakdown of the average cost of attendance for both public and private institutions. If the school you’re considering is much more expensive than the standard market rate, strongly reconsider.
And if they don’t accept financial aid, run quickly – and I mean run. As fast as you can.
7. Elementary Curriculum
If the program’s coursework appears to be too thin, chances are that the degree isn’t worth the effort it takes to complete it.
8. Bad Reviews
There are always a few bad apples in every bunch of reviews. But if the bulk of what you’re seeing is negative, it’s time to be realistic. Maybe the school just isn’t for you.
9. Transferability of Credits
Let’s say you reach the midway point at the school, and then decide that you want to study elsewhere. You’ll need to find an institution that will accept the credits that you’ve already earned. Otherwise, you’ll have to start from scratch. And sadly, this is the case for many students at for-profit colleges – including those from ITT, who had to find out the hard way.
10. No Accreditation
I hate to put it this way, but a degree from an unaccredited institution may be deemed worthless by many employers. I discovered this many years ago when a close friend and I were in the market for accounting jobs. She had attended a for-profit college and earned a business degree. The only problem was that her college of business wasn’t AACSB accredited. As a result, most of the employers with whom she was hoping to land an interview wouldn’t even give her the time of the day.