Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Should You Go to a For-Profit School?

Education is the best investment you can make, unless it is an utter con job.  For-profit schools often target the poor and minorities and overcharge for diplomas that may be next to worthless.  It is a shame, as people trying to better themselves just end up in debt with little or nothing to show for it.  See THIS LINK for more details!

For-profits schools are making a lot of press lately, mostly because of Pell grant fraud alleged, and also student loan issues.  What is wrong with these schools?  To begin with, most of them are not well-known names, or if they are, they are well known because of their infamy.  So going to "Joe Blow For-Profit Internet Online Night Correspondence School" is not going to get you the same credentials as going to Harvard.

The really crooked schools teach little in the way of skills and charge outrageous fees.  They get students to sign up for student loans and Pell grants.  The students they are targeting are usually lower income people who desperately want to improve their lot in life - people who think they are doing what is right to get ahead.

And what do they get?  Often a worthless degree and years of staggering student loan debt.  It is bad enough to have $30,000 in student loan debt after graduating from a name school.  It is far worse if you are graduating from Joe's Backroom For-Profit U.  At least the "name" school grad has a shot at getting a job.

And student loan debt is NOTHING TO TAKE LIGHTLY.  New laws make it nearly impossible to skip out on student loan debt.  Why?  Well, we lawyers are to blame.  In the 1980's and early 1990's it was common for clever law students to rack up a mountain of law school loans and live in a luxury apartment and buy a new BMW and put it in their girlfriend's name.  Upon graduation, they would claim poverty, file bankruptcy and have hundreds of thousands of student loans wiped out.  Nice trick, if you can swing it.

So today, getting out from under ANY debt is hard to do, and student loans - damn near impossible.  If you can convince a judge that your profession will NEVER allow you to pay it all back, you MIGHT get some of debt forgiven.  But that rarely happens.

Student Loans are probably the subject for another posting, as there are so many issues with them, and so many young people start off life saddled with them.  And many answer the siren song of the "consolidation" loan, which merely amortizes the debt over 30 years or more, often at a higher interest rate (I kept mine as they were and paid them off in 10 years, thank you).

So what can you, as a student do, to protect yourself from the for-profit college?  Don't go, first of all.  Look into State Schools (State U.) and other legitimate academic institutions first.  You may be surprised to discover you qualify.  Why bother going to a fake school when you can go to a real one?

Also look at the "name brand" universities, many of which have a night program.  For example, after I gloriously flunked out of General Motors Institute (smoking dope = stupid) I applied to Syracuse University's night program, University College.  I took basic courses at night, got good grades, and was able to transfer to the main program after a year or two.  It took many years, but I ended up graduating with my Engineering degree from S.U.  My employer (United Technologies) even paid some of my tuition for me.  And since I went part-time, it was cheaper and I could afford the tuition in smaller chunks.

If you can't get into a program like that, try a local Community College.  Yes, they don't have the street cred of a major University or State School, but they are head and shoulders above "Joe's For-Profit College".  And most have focused programs that relate to jobs at the end of the pipeline.

And check out a school's accreditation.  If the school is not accredited, walk away, period.

And by the way, make sure there is a job at the end of the pipeline.  Spending tens of thousands of dollars to study anthropology, only to end up as a bartender, is just a waste of money.  Study something that will help you in life.

For-profit universities are not hard to spot.  They advertise heavily and they use phone banks to get prospective students to sign up, using high-pressure sales tactics.  A quality school makes YOU apply to THEM, not vice-versa, and the Office of Admissions doesn't use phone banks!  So if you see a school advertised on a billboard, watch out.  Unless it is a legitimate community college, it probably is one of these "for profit" con jobs.

If in doubt, ask your high school guidance counselor for advice on what schools to apply to.  They should be able to distinguish between the con jobs and the real schools.  And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

The debt blogs are filled with sob stories from poor ignorant people who tried to "get ahead" by going to college, only to have their dreams smashed by for-profit con-jobs.  Their diplomas are worthless, but cost them thousands and thousands of dollars in student loans.  So they end up unemployed or underemployed, and further in debt.

Don't let it happen to you!  Just say NO to for-profit schools!