Broken Promises At For-Profit Schools

By Christine Alexis

Derek looked up at an ad on the subway for a for-profit trade school and shook his head. “I owe them $18,000 for nothing,” he said.  

The 19-year-old explained he enrolled hoping to learn a trade. But after two semesters he quit because he felt he hadn’t learned anything that he could use. “I wasted my money,” he said. “Now, I’m trying again. I moved to North Carolina and I want to learn to be a plumber because people always need someone to repair their toilet.”

Many like Derek find broken promises at for-profit schools. Flashy ads on the subway, on the Internet and in commercials on TV and radio catch the eyes of young people looking for quick solutions. They make for-profit schools sound like the answer to a prayer.

These schools promise hopeful students a fast track to a degree and job opportunities after graduation. Some schools even offer financial aid, “for those who qualify.”

This really bothers me because they appeal to poor African-Americans and Latinos who make up 28 percent and 15 percent of their enrollment.

Many for-profit schools live up to their label. They are publicly traded companies that benefit investors.  And their interest is the bottom line. The focus is often on making money rather than educating.


Even the schools that go beyond teaching a trade and offer a broader education often deliver less than they promise.

College GraduationGraduation rates at four-year for-profit colleges are 32 percent compared to nonprofit private and public schools at 66 percent, according to a report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). 

These statistics make me wonder why people enroll. If you drop out before you finish, you’re left with debt instead of a job like they promised you. It just seems like a lose-lose situation.


Courtesy Wikimedia
Courtesy Wikimedia

Online education is a hot trend. But you need to be careful because it’s the same kind of deal.

The NCLC urges states to take a hard look at online schools and profit-making institutions.

Its report says, “States have not kept up with this trend: many do not regulate any segment of for-profit schools exclusively offering distance education, making expanding oversight laws to include these for-profit schools a priority.”

Criticism of for-profit schools is not new. Since 2004, federal and state regulators initiated over 61 investigations into their practices and some brought lawsuits against companies and schools.

If you’re thinking about going to a for-profit-school, investigate these things before you sign up.

1. Do they ask for credit card and banking information upfront? That’s a red flag. It shows they are more interested in money than in education.

2. Ask if the school is accredited and if you can transfer the credits to a state or city school. Check with a state or city school in your area to verify that the credits will be accepted.

3. If you want to become a teacher, find out if your local school system recognizes the degree from the school you’re considering.

4. Research the graduation and job placement rates that for-profit schools advertise. Many of these colleges have been sued for using fake statistics that put a positive spin on their job placement rates.

5. Think about the money you’re investing into a for-profit school program. If you plan to become an electrician or maybe a plumber like Derek, research the average salaries they make.

Ask yourself if a for-profit school is worth the money.

You may be able to take courses at a public community college to learn the trade and skills to get you started on a career.  

Comment below and let us know your story! Share these tips with a friend or anyone considering a for-profit school. 

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