Senate hearings this week put for-profit colleges in the spotlight again for illegal and unethical recruiting practices at some very big name schools, such University of Phoenix, ITT, Westwood and Kaplan. For-profit schools, as the title suggests, are operated to make profits for the benefit of shareholders. Traditional colleges are not-for-profit institutions, which re-invest income back into the institution's programs and facilities. They do not have shareholders to please. The admissions and financial aid staffs at some for-profits can be under extreme pressure to increase enrollment and can be encouraged or required to ignore federal regulations and laws that pertain to recruitment practices meant to protect students.
Some of the tactics used were revealed at the hearing this week in a video that showed staffers from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) working undercover as prospective students at several for-profits throughout the US. Practices included providing false or inflated data on salaries of graduates of their programs; not clearly informing prospective students about the real cost of tuition and fees; and not allowing students to talk to financial aid staff prior to making a financial commitment to the school. Employees of these schools have also been found to coach students to lie on federal financial aid forms or to have falsified financial aid forms for the student.
Accreditation issues can also cause problems for students. Schools, both for-profit and not-for-profit, must receive accreditation from a recognized and approved accreditation agency to be able to provide educational services/programs. Individual academic programs must also be accredited. Accreditation means that the school and its academic programs meet recognized industry standards. All schools must be accredited to operate and to receive federal/state financial aid for their students.
At some for-profits school, students have run into problems upon graduation, when they realize that although the school that they graduated from was accredited, the program that they completed was not. This is important for careers that require employees be graduates of accredited programs and may prevent graduates for gaining needed professional licensure and as a consequence jobs in the desired profession. This can be an issue, particularly in allied health and technical fields.
To avoid be tricked into any school that may be inappropriate for the student's needs and goals, individuals should ask for:
1. The per credit tuition/fees required, the total number of credits required for the degree and the average number of semesters/terms it typically takes to complete the program.
2. What accreditation agency has provided the school's accreditation and if the academic program is accredited and through which agency.
3. Whether there are job placement services on campus and the names of companies that have hired its graduates from the academic program being considered.
It would be advisable to compare programs at a for-profit college to a community college in the area, as they offer similar programs. Compare costs, length of program, accreditation, and job placement opportunities. For information on enrtry level salaries, professional training and licensure requirements, a great resource is the US Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook at http://www.bls.gov/oco/. The OOH gives salary information by state as well as national figures. This will help determine if salary figures presented by schools are realistic.
With a few specific questions and a bit of research those interested in any college, for-profit or not-for-profit, can find the program that leads to a satisfying career.