A Government Accountability Office investigation recently found that many for-profit colleges made deceptive or questionable statements to prospective students, including underestimating the costs of their programs, giving false statistics for employability after graduation and encouraging applicants to lie on their federal financial aid forms.
Everyone wants to improve their lot in life. It is basic human nature to strive for the next rung on the ladder. For-profit schools offer the hope of a promising career or new beginning for people seeking training in vocations such as medical assisting, computerized accounting, massage therapy, pharmacy technician,or legal office technology. However, applicants to these for-profit organizations should be extremely wary of what they are committing to before they sign on the dotted line. Often times, what you don't know at first can come back to bite you later.
CHECK THE SCHOOL'S ACCREDITATION
If the career field you are pursuing requires a certification or license, make sure the school you're considering is properly accredited so as to enable you to sit for the certification or licensing exam you desire. I represent 12 former students of a local for-profit school who were told by admissions representatives and school officials they'd be able to sit for a particular certification exam after they finished their school curriculum. The problem arose as the students were finishing their program and began to apply to take the certification test sought, only to be told by the certifying testing body that the school they attended was not properly accredited so as to enable the students to sit for the test.
Upon hearing the initial representations of school officials, had any of the students thought to check with either of the two accrediting agencies the school could have been accredited by so as to enable students to take the test, that student would have learned the truth about the school's accreditation and understood the extent of the lies they were told by school officials.
ARE YOU JUST A NUMBER?
Most students do not have $10,000+ to lay out for tuition. Attendees of for-profit schools are eligible to receive loans and grants in order to cover their tuition costs. As a result, the school has a big financial motive to make sure that any person who signs up remains enrolled, regardless of that person's intelligence level or aptitude in their chosen field.
For-profit colleges are occupation-specific institutions that offer degrees and certifications in everything from cosmetology to criminal justice. Most of their revenue-sometimes as much as 89%-comes from federal student loans or grants, making high enrollment a priority. If a student fails out of the program, the school loses the state unemployment funding and federal loans and grants received on behalf of the student. So, even if Jane Jones is failing a course, for-profit schools have been known to change grades of the failing student to passing in order to keep the student on the enrollment books and the loans and grant money coming in.
In the consumer fraud claim I am currently handling on behalf of 12 former students of a local for-profit school, former teachers and administrative staff have testified that they were ordered by the school operators to change grades of failing students in order to keep enrollment up and the loan and grant money coming in.
At your initial interview and before you sign on the dotted line, ask lots of questions and document what you were told and by whom. If you seek to build on your education and attend another school after the for-profit school, and you hope to transfer credits to the second school, ask the for-profit school admissions representative if the credits earned there are transferrable to another institution. Then check with that other school to see if the credits from the for-profit school will be accepted. Ask school officials about the school's accreditation and about job placement rates for graduates in career-related positions.
The recent Government Accountability Office study was based on an undercover investigation of 15 "colleges", all of whom made deceptive or questionable statements about the accreditation of their school or the transferrability of credits or the costs of the education. The United States Department of Education has previously determined that for-profit school graduates have an 'alarmingly high" rate of student loan debt and default.
My experience suggests there is a direct link between the lies and deceptions schools tell their applicants and the extent to which students rely on the representations and are unsuccessful in the program. To avoid becoming a casualty of the for-profit school scam, be on guard and make sure you do your homework before going to school.