Discover the Truth About For-Profit Colleges

The popularity of for-profit colleges, e.g., Capella University, DeVry University and University of Phoenix may pose a conflicting dilemma for many parents. Some fear that their child may not receive a legitimate degree upon graduation. In this article, I will answer some common questions about these schools. I hope that with this additional information you will have the tools to help your child make the best decision for his or her education.

If for-profit colleges are often much more expensive and in some cases have bad reputations when compared to public universities, why are so many people enrolling?

There are three main reasons: advertising, customer service and fast degrees. Many of these schools are owned by large corporations with huge marketing budgets. As a result, they can use aggressive and expensive recruitment campaigns that utilize radio, flyers, side-walk sales agents, newspapers, public transportation and TV. Some pay internet search engines to be listed as first picks when people conduct searches. Some of the search phrases they have paid for are “top colleges”, “online colleges” and “top accredited schools.”

In order to stay in business for-profit colleges need to implement prompt attentive customer service in the admissions and financial-aid process. They understand that these processes can be intimidating and daunting for most people. For-profit colleges make it their business to streamline the process. They make it a priority to enroll students as quickly as possible. They also work closely with students to help them receive every type of grant and loan, they are eligible for. Most schools have open enrollment and do not have admissions tests. This adds to the ease of entry and simplifies the college application.

Many of the students who attend these schools need to either keep their current jobs or find employment as quickly as possible. For- profit colleges offer and market accelerated programs, online classes, and hybrid courses (online plus a few on-campus meetings) to accommodate the different needs of its clients. Many schools take life and work experience into consideration when determining what classes someone will need to graduate. They also allow students to test out of classes and often allow military personnel to convert military classes and training into college credits. These conveniences have attracted many people.

Are for-profit colleges accredited?

The short answer is yes; however, some accreditations can be worthless. Many for-profit institutions have national accreditation rather than regional accreditation. Regionally accredited schools are generally academically oriented, non-profit institutions. Nationally accredited schools are predominantly for-profit and offer vocational, career, or technical programs. Many regionally accredited schools will not accept transfer credits earned at a nationally accredited school. Make sure you ask an admissions representative whether they are regionally or nationally accredited. If a school tells you, they are in the process of seeking accreditation; you should consider enrollment after they have been accredited.

Some schools have made misrepresentations concerning their accreditation status to entice students to enroll. In order to protect your child, I would confirm the school’s accreditation before enrolling. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation online may help you determine if a particular school is accredited and by whom. You can also conduct a search at the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools one of six regional accrediting organizations for higher-education institutions recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education. WARNING: Do not confuse this organization with the “Middle States Accrediting Board” (MSAB). MSAB is an unrecognized accreditation agency that some schools use to legitimize their operations falsely.

Why have for-profit colleges been in the news lately? What is the controversy?

A number of schools in the for-profit sector have been accused of worsening the economic state of the people who seek their help to overcome poverty. Its students suffer severely high student-loan default rates and low graduation rates. The schools have been accused by students and politicians like Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate education committee, of misleading applicants. They find fault with their use of deceptive marketing tactics such as refusing to disclose the total tuition cost to prospective students, lying about accreditation and transferability of credits, promising jobs that pay extravagant salaries upon graduation and not accurately disclosing graduation rates. Some of these schools are also accused of maximizing profits by eliminating or minimally-funding valuable school services and activities for its students such as sports teams and clubs.

Conversely, there are students, investors and politicians who say the schools are vital to our system of education. They think that for profit colleges allow for competition, a necessary component for products to improve and for economic efficiencies to develop. In their opinion education in the United States needs an overhaul, and the emergence of for-profit colleges can force the positive changes needed to make higher education in the United States more competitive in the global market.

Lastly, many people are bothered by the idea that these for-profit corporations are earning billions of dollars from federal student-aid programs that are funded with tax dollars. Many of us agree that business owners should be free to do whatever they want with their profits. In the for-profit sector, this is controversial because the profits are generated from tax payers. Taxpayers have become aware of the abysmal graduation rates in these schools and wonder why their money is being spent on schools where a majority of students drop-out without degrees or certificates.

Aren’t all private colleges for-profit? How are traditional private colleges, e.g., Colombia University, Georgetown University and New York University with much higher tuition any different?

Private means that it is not operated by the government. This has nothing to do with being for-profit or not-for-profit. Not-for-profit colleges are expected to use all surplus/profits to accomplish the school’s mission. On the other hand, the owners of for-profit colleges can do whatever they want with their profits. Luckily, some for-profit school owners see their institutions as long-term investments and believe that reinvesting profits to hire the best employees and maintain state-of-the art facilities make them competitive. Regretfully, according to some recent class-action lawsuits, where students are alleging fraud, not all schools wish to keep their customers satisfied or plan to stay in business very long. It is possible to avoid troubled schools by determining employee satisfaction. One method of determining this is by figuring out how well employees are compensated and what they have to say about the company. has a tool that can help you determine how the school you are interested in is using its earnings to compensate its employees. Another tool you can use is The Chronicle of Higher Education. If the school you are interested in is not properly rewarding its employees you can begin to wonder if the staff instructing your child is happy working there. More importantly you want a school that has experienced people working for it. If a school has a high employee turnover rate, it can mean that its most qualified employees are leaving to find employment in other schools. This could leave students with inexperienced new teachers or resentful veterans. Employees working under these conditions may not be as creative and generous with their time as those who are happy with their employer.

What should I do if I or someone I know is considering enrolling in a for-profit college?

Find out if the school is reputable.

Go to the school and ask students to tell you about their experience. You can explore the Rate My Professor website. Through this website, you can read student comments and ratings on over 6,500 schools. Furthermore, visit the school placement office to research which employers actively recruit there and what kinds of internships, co-ops and post graduation jobs alumni have landed. Moreover, it might be helpful to research the school through the Better Business Bureau of your state.

Research how many students graduate from the school.

The national average for graduation rates is 55% in four-year colleges and 30% in two-year schools. Compare the colleges your child is interested in through a website called College Navigator. See which school has the highest graduation rate. A school with a low graduation rate could be a demoralizing place to be in especially if you make friends and know that 3/5th of them are going to drop out. The information can also help you see your child’s chances of completion. What you want to know is which school offers the best support services. Only consider enrolling in the school’s that offer the best services for your specific needs. Ask the following: the number of tutors for your major, is the learning center open on weekends and how late, how many computers are on hand to students, are laptops available for rental on campus, how will they support students with children, how will they help students who received free public transportation in high-school. It would benefit you greatly to get answers to these questions in an email. This way, you have documentation of what you were offered when you sign up. Determine the education level of the people who will assist you in graduating. It might be useful to know if support services are provided by people with doctorate’s, master’s, bachelor’s, associate’s degrees or none of the above. Ask how many professional counselors and academic-advisors they have? All of these factors can determine the professionalism of the institution and increase the likelihood that its students will graduate.

Find out if earned credits will transfer to other schools.

Ask a job placement advisor what school students typically transfer to. You can also ask the chairperson or assistant chairperson of the department your child is considering enrollment in the same question. Call every school you might transfer to after graduation and see whether they will accept your credits. Through the following online resource College Board, you can generate a list of schools offering bachelor’s degrees in the major you are considering. Contact the schools that interest you and find out if they accept your credits upon graduation.

Inquire about job prospects after graduation.

If the reason for considering college is employment than before signing anything it is crucial to stop at their career services office. Ask a career advisor which degree they think has the best job outlook. Most importantly find out which jobs absolutely require a degree for entry. Too often students find out after graduation that they still do not qualify for the job they were expecting to get after graduation. In some cases, they are no more employable or valuable to employers after graduation than before they went to school. Make sure you are pursuing a degree or certificate that is a condition for employment in the field you want to work in. If you want to enter a field that only requires you to pass an exam to work, save your money by buying or renting a study guide for the exam, research the test dates, show up and take the test. For additional information, you can visit CareerOneStop an online resource sponsored by the Department of Labor. You should consider picking your major based on their information regarding fastest growing occupations and occupations with the most openings.

Ask specific questions regarding your personal needs.

If you have special needs such as wheelchair access, assistance with transportation or housing, I would recommend that you speak directly to someone responsible for providing that service before making an enrollment decision. Through questioning find out how developed that service really is. Know your options and only settle for the school which best meets your needs.

Final tips

According to the mission statement will let you know if what the school offers and the way they provide it lines up with your educational goals, so read it. Furthermore, remember to confirm everything they are offering you in writing, by email. Under no circumstances settle for the first school you visit without comparing it to other schools NEVER! You can compare tuition, majors, student support services and many more criteria at College Board Matchmaker online. Hopefully, these tips will make you a little wiser and more secure in the final decision. Good luck