If you watch TV, listen to the radio, or commute to work then the odds good are that you’ve read or heard about a for-profit college, whether you realize it or not.
Commercials, billboards, and even colorful announcements placed on benches and the sides of busses are common types of advertisements among popular for-profit colleges such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Everest College.
Most for-profit colleges, including the ones mentioned above, have been portrayed by the media as evil entities that do nothing more than cause hopeful, unsuspecting students to wind up with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that they can’t afford to repay—and no degree or better job to show for it.
There are two sides to every story, though, which is why it’s a good idea to take another look at for-profit colleges.
For-profit colleges are just what they sound like. They are schools that are operated by profit-seeking investors or companies, as opposed to colleges and universities operated by not-for-profit institutions, religious organizations, or the government.
In addition to the fact that investor-owned schools want to make money, for-profit colleges aren’t your typical post-high school institutions. Fraternity parties and football games aren’t on the agenda, because for-profit colleges typically cater to non-traditional students—older students with full-time jobs, families, and a large number of responsibilities, as opposed to young adults in their late teens and early twenties.
Many for-profit colleges offer online classes and do not have a physical location, and most of the for-profit colleges with brick-and-mortar campuses are located in business parks or even in small sections of large office buildings. There’s no tree-lined quad or all-you-can-eat cafeteria; for-profit college campuses are no-nonsense and practical.
Both the media and the government have been trying to make for-profits sound like nothing more than money-hungry “bad guys,” but is what these schools doing really so wrong?
The University of Phoenix’s self-defined mission and purpose is to “provide access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, improve the productivity of their organizations and provide leadership and service to their communities.”
Argosy University’s website states that “In today’s increasingly competitive workplace, success not only begins with an advanced degree. It’s a must. Particularly in fields like Business, the Health Sciences, Psychology and Education. So if you’re a professional who’s looking ever upwards, consider Argosy University. And take your career potential to new heights.”
Kaplan College proclaims that “Whatever your reason is for going back to school, it is worth it,” and “You never know what you can achieve unless you try.”
Doesn’t sound bad at all, and although opponents believe otherwise, there are some possible advantages of attending for-profit colleges.
For-profit colleges cater to non-traditional students with tight schedules who would not otherwise be able to attend traditional college classes, opening the doors of education to more people. In fact, according to a Washington Post College Inc. column by Daniel de Vise, 14 publicly-traded for-profit colleges enrolled 1.4 million students as of 2008, a dramatic increase from 200,000 students in eight companies 10 years earlier.
For-profit colleges also typically offer more flexible class schedules and smaller classes than traditional colleges and universities, a big benefit to adults who have been out of school for years or even decades.
For-profit career colleges, such as those that specialize in the IT industry or healthcare services, provide in-depth training that can help students change careers or move up the ladder at work and potentially earn better incomes.
Critics of for-profit education believe that schools should exist to educate, not turn a profit. They also claim that too many students of for-profit programs leave with useless degrees (if they earn a degree before dropping out of school) and heavy debt.
NBC Nightly News reports that 92 percent of students at for-profit colleges and universities borrow money to finance their tuition, compared to 59 percent of students at four-year, private, non-profit schools and 46 percent of students at four-year public schools.
“Because the tuitions are high and they’ve had to borrow to pay the tuition, they’re laden with debt and often they can’t find a good enough job to be able to pay that debt off,” Bloomberg News investigative reporter Daniel Golden said earlier this year, reports NPR. “And because these student loans can’t be discharged even in bankruptcy, they follow these former students throughout life … It can be a lifelong drag on people who already are struggling.”
Some students that are considering enrolling at a for-profit college may hear a lot of flak from friends and family. Others may find enough “bad” information about these schools that they change their minds.
As with any big decision in life, it’s a good idea to do your homework before deciding whether or not to attend any college, university or career center, for-profit or non-profit. Do more than listen to the admissions representatives that are urging you to enroll today and better yourself—speak to students that have attended the school, and find out what they liked and disliked. Find out if they feel the for-profit college helped them in the long run.
Still feeling confused? Consider this:
A 2010 opinion piece by Arthur Keiser published in the St. Petersburg Times states that the majority of students that attend for-profit career colleges are the first people in their families to attend college. To paraphrase Keiser, these students deserve a shot at success as much as any other student, just like they deserve access to federal student loans and grants to use at the school of their choice.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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