For-profit colleges are a multi-billion dollar industry. They offer career-oriented degree and diploma programs at a very high tuition rate. In some cases, students who attend for-profit colleges end up paying as much for their education as someone who attends an ivy league school. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this week released a two year investigation into the for-profit education in which they found significant problems. Before getting into those finding, I would like to share my own experience at a for-profit school.
In 1995, I had just gotten out of the Navy and had no idea what to do next. In the Navy, I had been an "Aviation Machinist Mate" or aircraft mechanic, which could have translated into a very good job, but I really hated it, and, quite frankly, I was terrible at it. When I was in the Navy I rarely slept through the night, because I would constantly wake up terrified that I had made a mistake and a jet would crash killing someone. There was no way that I could continue to do that, so I was looking for other options.
I grew up in a small town with a population of about 300 people. Higher education was a completely foreign concept to me, my family, my friends, etc. When I saw an ad for a medical assistant program on TV, I thought that sounded like a good idea.
I went to see a "counselor" who wow'd me with lots of statistics about the allied health field. She presented me with graphs and charts from Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed medical assistants made, on average, $14/hr, which wasn't bad in 1996. She told me about how most students had job offers before they even graduate from the nine-month program, even being recruited from out of state; and, the onsite career center would work tirelessly for me even after I was done to make sure I had a great job. I'm an inherently trusting person, so I bought into every word of it and was enrolled within an hour.
The financial aid department signed me up for $8,000 worth of student loans. I'm still not really sure how they got that much from a nine-month program. The student loans did not cover the full cost of tuition, so I also had to pay an additional $500 a month, which came out of my G.I bill. So, when it was all said and done, I paid more than $12,000 for the program, not including the cost of transportation, living expenses, supplies, etc.
I completely threw myself into the program. I wanted to be the best, and I was. I had perfect attendance and received awards for academic achievement for every unit. I finished at the top of the class and did, indeed, have a job offer when I graduated... for a 3-month part-time temporary position at $7/hr.
I was working for the largest health care conglomerate in Northern California. I was barely making above minimum wage and had no benefits. I was being worked 39 hours a week in my "part-time" position. I worked hard, hoping my part-time temporary position would work into a full-time benefited position. It wasn't long before I realized that wasn't going to happen. A few weeks before my three-month assignment was up, a new graduate came in and I was asked to train her. Once she was ready, I was let go.
I applied for every job I could find, both in state and out, and consistently came up with nothing. I called the career development department that had promised to help me even after graduating, and they wouldn't even talk to me. I called the counselor who had sold me on the program and all she could offer was another program that was, supposedly, even more in demand. I said, "no thanks."
The problem, you see, is that there were dozens of these schools and they were all turning out hundreds of graduates every month. The field was completely saturated. When all was said and done, my perfect attendance and academic achievements were worthless.
But, the story doesn't end there, because I still have all that debt, and it has grown. Worst of all, it is currently preventing me from completing the last three semesters I need to get my applied math degree. I can't afford anymore loans and don't currently qualify for a pell grant, so I have no way to finish school.
If I had never gone to High tech Institute, I could have finished my math degree years ago. I could have a good job right now. Instead, I am struggling every month to find enough work just to cover the most basic expenses. Nearly 20 years later, I am still suffering consequences from attending a for-profit college for nine months in 1996. And the worst part? I could have gotten the same diploma through a community college for about $500.
The two-year investigation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found a range of problems that run “deep within the for-profit sector,” which received $32 billion through federal student aid in the 2009-10 academic year.In a one-year period these for-profit colleges sucked $32 billion dollars from the federal student aid system. That wouldn't be so bad if the students were graduating and getting good jobs, but they aren't.
It said the government gets little return on that investment, with most students at for-profit institutions failing to graduate.
But the report said that more than half the students enrolled in a for-profit program in 2008-09 left without a degree or diploma. The 30 companies studied had nearly 1.1 million Americans enrolled between 2008 and 2009, but more than half had withdrawn by mid-2010, it said.These students are going into debt and not even getting the benefit of a degree. In most cases, the debt they accumulate could pay for multiple community college programs.
The study did find that Arizona based Universal Technical Institute is getting students into jobs:
The results from Universal Technical Institute, which offers vocational programs, suggest that students are finishing the program and finding jobs, even though it had high tuition rates.What isn't clear is if those jobs pay enough to offset the high tuition.
The Apollo Group, which runs University of Phoenix, was also said to be taking "the right steps" toward fixing issues within their system, but they are still putting profits before students.
The report does offer some solutions:
The report suggests three major changes: Enhance transparency by collecting relevant and accurate student outcome information, strengthen federal financial aid oversight and create meaningful protection for students.In my opinion, these are not the right solutions. The right solution is to invest more heavily into community colleges. Many students who get sucked into for-profit colleges do not know that they can get the same education at a community college for much cheaper. The for-profit schools advertise like crazy. You can't watch daytime TV for more than 10 minutes without seeing an ad for one of their programs. Community colleges simply cannot compete with their ad budgets.
How about making for-profit counselors show potential students the comparison between the cost at their institution and the cost for the same program at a local community college?
Oh, and how did Republicans respond?
But a minority report by Republican staffers on the committee said that while it is “indisputable that significant problems exist” at some for-profit institutions, Democrats “did not seek bipartisan input or support” for the investigation. The majority’s “biased conduct” throughout the probe raises doubts about the accuracy of the report, they said.So, rather than try to find a solution that could save the federal student aid system billions of dollars a year, they want to play politics and pretend this is a partisan attack.