Are For-Profit Schools a Scam?

While Congress has dismantled their investigation of for-profit colleges, there are still questions that need to be answered concerning their motivations and practices. Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education, has drawn scrutiny over her support of for-profit colleges and schools, as did the addition of a former dean of DeVry University to the investigative team.

Educators are still critical of corporations such as DeVry, Bridgepoint Education, and Career Education Corporation with good reason. DeVry has already paid the Federal Trade Commission $100 million “for tens of thousands of students harmed by DeVry’s conduct.” What exactly is the conduct that the FTC considers harmful? Thankfully, investigations and former employees have exposed what is really happening at these for-profit schools.

Aggressive Recruiting Tactics

Tressie McMillan Cottom, the author of Lower Ed, discusses the aggressive recruiting tactics that for-profit colleges use. Recruiters have quotas to meet and are encouraged to enroll students who qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid. Recruiters are reminded by training material to poke the pain a bit and remind them who else is depending on them and their commitment to a better future.” A Kaplan University training document also states (in all capital letters), “It is all about uncovering their pain and fears. Once they are reminded of how bad things are, this will create a sense of urgency to make a change.”

Targeting of Low-Income and Minority Students

For-profit colleges are known to target low-income and minority students who may not understand the difference in the quality of education between non-profit and for-profit schools. These potential students may also encounter obstacles when applying to traditional colleges or universities. During one investigation, the government found a list of ideal students most likely to enroll in courses from a training manual at Vatterott, a now-closed for-profit school. This training manual stated explicitly that recruiters should enroll: “Welfare mom w/kids, pregnant ladies, recent divorce, low self-esteem, vocational rehabilitation, experienced a recent death, physically/mentally abused, drug rehabilitation, fired/lay off.”

Many for-profit schools focus on the number of enrollments, and the student’s best interests are not kept in mind. This is largely because they operate to produce returns for investors and shareholders and not necessarily for their students.

The Worth of a For-Profit Degree

Employers have been known to say that if they see two candidates, one with a for-profit degree and one from a traditional institution, they will most likely choose the candidate with the non-profit degree. Out of the programs that for-profit schools like DeVry and University of Phoenix offer, 72 percent produce graduates who earn less than high school dropouts.

Are all for-profit colleges a scam? For-profit schools do provide students who may find it challenging to apply to non-profit schools, but many times, these corporations as schools come with a cost. Be sure to consider the cost of the program versus non-profit institutions (for-profit universities tend to cost more). It is also important to confirm that the program they are offering is accredited and accepted by employers.

If you are planning on transferring to a different institution, you will need to make sure that the credits will transfer. Understanding your loan terms is critical as well. Make sure it is understood the amount you will be paying per month and in total, including interest. There are success stories from graduates of for-profit schools, but their internal operations indicate that they are concerned more about revenue and enrollment numbers than the students they serve.

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