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For-Profit Colleges: Study Up Before You Enroll

by Anna Haug

There are many things to consider when deciding on where to go to college: location, size, major, and now, non profit or for profit colleges. "We always advise students to choose a school based on their interests, goals and financial situation, regardless of whether they're for profit or not for profit," said Lupe Hernandez, Senior Outreach Representative at the Iowa College Access Network. For profit colleges are educational institutions that are run by private, profit seeking companies or organizations. There are ways that students should educate themselves before deciding. 

Check accreditation

Ask if specific programs are accredited and by whom. For job-specific training, ask if there are other licensing or registration requirements beyond the earned degree and if the program prepares students to take any required exams upon graduation. Then it is important to verify the information.

Search for complaints

Most attorney general offices have consumer complaint divisions that log grievances against educational institutions. If not, state education departments should point you in the right direction. A Web search often will turn up news about lawsuits, scams, or accreditation issues. Be sure to find out the name of the school's parent company and search for it, too.

Check graduation, placement, and retention rates

It is important to know the success of their previous students. Indicators of their success are the graduations rates, specifically for your degree or major, the rate of those obtaining jobs after graduation and the number of students that stay enrolled at the program or college. The National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, D.C., is a good place to start. 

Research earning potential

There are no laws regulating how for-profit schools calculate students' projected earnings, thus creating the opportunity to inflate wages, eliminate low-wage placements from averages, or otherwise manipulate data. Public schools' assertions, however, are heavily regulated and monitored.

Students can find actual wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The division of the Labor Department breaks down information by specific career and location, so, for example, dental assistant students in Miami can determine how much they can expect to earn at various points in their careers.

Talk to potential employers

Ask employers if they are familiar with a program, whether they would hire its graduates, and if they ever have. If employers don't like a particular program, ask whether there are other local schools or training that is better.

Compare community colleges

Community colleges and public, nonprofit technical schools often offer programs similar to those of private proprietary schools for a fraction of the cost.

Published 5-13-13


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