Early in my career, I was an admissions counselor for an art school. Since I wanted to become a college professor, working behind the scenes sounded wonderful.
What I didn’t know was that this school was a for-profit college. I also didn’t understand why that mattered. It only took a few days on the job to figure that out — and to realize why my dream of this job was very, very wrong.
What are for-profit colleges?
There are many ways for-profit colleges differ from nonprofit colleges and universities.
To start, for-profit schools are private businesses. Since they’re a business first and foremost, they’ll market to you heavily as soon as they get your information. For-profit colleges spent $4.2 billion on marketing, recruiting, and admissions in 2009 alone — according to ProPublica.
After working at one, this doesn’t surprise me. It didn’t take me long to understand how different these colleges are. When I thought I’d be trained to help students, instead I was given a stack of papers with phone numbers to call.
My job consisted of cold calling all day every day, except for when I was interviewing and enrolling students.
I wanted to make the best of a bad situation, but when I realized these practices were predatory, it was impossible for me to stay. I left the job after three months.
Why you should avoid for-profit schools
You could say my experience was just one, that it shouldn’t be applied to all for-profit education experiences, and you’d be right. However, there are a few alarming facts about this industry as a whole. And they’re not what you’re likely to be told during your interview process with a for-profit school.
1. They cost more than traditional colleges
For-profits may sound like a good option for someone who doesn’t have the time or money to attend a four-year college or university. However, the price tag could set you back far more.
Tuition and fees for a public two-year, in-district school are $3,520, according to CollegeBoard. For a public four-year, in-state school it’s $9,650. And for a for-profit college — it’s $16,000.
Still think your local four-year college is too expensive?
You can look at the costs overall for an even better understanding of how expensive for-profit colleges are. ProPublica shares the average cost of an associate’s degree in 2012 at a for-profit university was $35,000. For an associate’s degree at a comparable community college? Only $8,300.
2. They spend less on your education
If you’re going to spend more, you should receive a higher quality education, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.
According to ProPublica, the average for-profit college spent $2,050 per student on instruction in 2009. But a public college spent $7,329 per student.
How does the student fare in this scenario? Not well. According to a study of 30 for-profit colleges, 54 percent of students who were enrolled in 2008-09 had dropped out by mid-2010. Students aiming for a two-year degree fared even worse, with a 64 percent dropout rate.
3. You might earn less than before
So for-profit schools cost more than most other schools and less is spent on students’ instruction. But what happens after you graduate?
According to recent data, you might actually earn less than you did before you attend a for-profit school. Fortune reported:
“Researchers out of George Washington University and the U.S. Department of the Treasury looked at income and debt data from about 1.4 million students to determine the effects on those graduating from for-profit universities…They found that ‘on average associate’s and bachelor’s degree students experience a decline in earnings after attendance, relative to their own earnings in years prior to attendance,’ according to a summary of the report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.”
No one goes to college with the intent of earning less afterward. So how is it possible that this investment goes so negative with some for-profit college graduates?
4. Their job placement statistics aren’t what they seem
Because the job placement rates for-profit colleges advertise are not always accurate. These numbers are often inflated and don’t necessarily include work found in your field.
If you decided to get a for-profit education for a degree in massage therapy, but end up working at Home Depot, then that could count as a “placement.”
Sound crazy? Read a few of the stories in this article by New America to find out just how prevalent this is.
5. Your school might close and credit transfers might be hard
Let’s say you’re already attending a for-profit school and, all of a sudden, your school closes.
With for-profit colleges, this is not infrequent. In fact, in the fall of 2016, one of the best-known for-profit colleges, ITT Technical Institute, closed its doors. And now various other well-known for-profit schools are under investigation.
The good news is, students with federal loans might be eligible for student loan forgiveness if their school closes. But this doesn’t apply to those who’ve already completed their programs.
Students whose schools are still open might also find that their credits don’t transfer to other universities the way they hoped. This is an issue if they intend to seek a transfer or a higher degree later. This is an area the government is starting to crack down on to protect prospective students.
Community college might be a better option
Many prospective students see for-profit colleges as a more flexible way to earn a degree. And that’s exactly what for-profit schools want you to think.
However, even if you’re a working parent or don’t have the GPA to get into a four-year public university, you don’t have to turn to a for-profit education.
Look at your local community college. There’s a good chance it’ll be cheaper, offer night classes, and allow you to attend part-time if necessary. Not only might you get a better education, you might also find better results after graduation.
When you consider the facts, it’s clear that community college might be a better option than for-profit colleges. Even the cost of tuition alone is a good reason.
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