For-profit colleges and programs are receiving a lot of bad press lately. For good reason.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sued Corinthian Colleges for predatory lending practices. How does a college qualify as a predatory lender? This is crazy.
Predatory lending is a practice that tricks a borrower into accepting terms that are unfair through deception, misinformation, or other coercive tactics. In this case, Corinthian College is accused of taking advantage of ill-informed students by steering them into huge loan programs to fund programs of questionable credibility.
Corinthian is not the first for-profit academic institution to inflate their results. I have a few thoughts on how students can protect themselves from being victimized by the next educational scam that presents as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
1. Google It
Check for reviews online from other students who’ve had a previous experience. If you find too many articles and personal commentaries about a school’s poor quality, this should raise an immediate flag. While there are consumer protection agencies designed to hold companies accountable, these investigations can drag out over years. In the meantime, avoiding companies that are either too new or have too many disgruntle or unsatisfied customers (just like you would a restaurant or movie review) is a good first step in protecting your interests.
2. Trust, But Verify
Job placement rates seem to be a major sticking point when accurately evaluating the efficacy of for-profit schools. Try to contact a hiring professional in the area of interest and determine if the school in question is regarded favorably. Find out if employers have a high regard for students from the program in question. Given high cost of some schools, this extra effort can save you thousands.
3. Bargain Shop
The average for-profit tuition cost in 2013 was $15,000. Compare that to $3200 for in-state junior college tuition and $8900 for public four year schools and it’s a wonder these schools have any students at all. (Source) If you can get the same (or better) education for less money, let your cash be your guide. I realize these schools aggressively target “non-traditional” students – students who might not believe they can be accepted into traditional schools or may need the flexibility of online or evening classes. They may also appeal to those who want an abbreviated and targeted program vs the liberal arts education. That makes better sense for some people. It’s imperative that you diligently ensure – before hand and not based on a high pressure sales presentation – that the effort and money spent will give you a chance at success on the back end.
4. Talk to Graduates
Find some graduates on your own – not students referred by the school – to get honest feedback. Everyone’s situation is different and school is no different. Often you’ll get out what you put in. However, it can not hurt your decision making process to learn from the hindsight of those who’ve completed the program. The best question to ask is “would they do it again?”
5. Look for Scholarships
If you’ve investigated the school sufficiently and still feel this is a good fit, look for scholarships. You can search for scholarships from the school itself and also through third party options. With traditional schools, you’ll still want to avoid or at least minimize the amount of student loans incurred for any educational program. Paying as you go, employer sponsored scholarship or tuition reimbursement programs should all be consulted before signing on for thousands in loans with no guarantee of future employment.
I had a great chat with a Dee from Color Me Frugal about how she achieved A Debt Free Degree Without Loans or the Bank of Mom & Dad. This podcast should be required listening for everything student considering large student loans.
Protect yourself by taking the time to ensure a for-profit program is the best fit.