Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Protect Your Dreams
If you have a college degree you can be absolutely sure of one thing... you have a college degree. ~Author Unknown
Mid-life brings many things: empty nests, achy knees, gray hair, wrinkles. Often it brings the desire to change careers, as well. Maybe you always dreamed of opening a bakery, but you didn't quite feel competent enough. Or perhaps you'd like to work part-time at the computer place since it's your hobby, but you feel you need some training to do so. What better way to make that change than to take a few courses and earn a degree in a short amount of time from a career college?
But hold on there. Not so fast. Many people are finding some problems with these types of schools.
While there is a huge debate going on in our country right now about whether these schools (which tend to be for-profit) are ethical, regulated enough, filling a needed niche, a great idea, or the worst idea ever (see these articles for examples: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/business/14schools.html?_r=1 and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203946904574299992289841598.html), like any choice of school, you need to be informed before you make a decision.
The major objections to these types of schools seem to be four-fold. First, their recruiters can be quite aggressive, pushing you into signing up now because classes "just started."
Secondly, the cost can be quite high. I've read about costs of $40,000+ for a 2-year degree. Much of this money comes from student loans, and while those can often be a very good deal interest- and payment-wise, one can only pay those back if gainfully employed, which leads me to the third issue.
Since these colleges are often career focused, they lure in students with a promise of being able to get a job with the degree. Some schools boast of 90% placement rates when their rates are actually much lower. Now I'll grant that public schools don't have any kind of employment guarantee, but some of the career schools are making promises they can't keep. As a result, many students find themselves with a useless degree and huge student loan debt.
Fourth, in some cases, students will need to take a state qualifying exam after graduation to be certified in a field. However, some certifying agencies will not allow graduates of certain schools to sit for the exam since they do not recognize the program as legitimate. Imagine spending all that time and money on a degree that won't even allow you to take the state exam!
Just like any other business, there are good and bad examples of these career colleges. For every former student who says she was ripped off, you'll find another who raves about how quickly she found a dream job. I'm not about to lump them all in one camp or the other. There just is no way that they are all good or all bad.
What I would like you to do is this. If you or someone you know is considering going to one of these schools, please consider these steps. 1. Check out the school with the US Department of Education (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/). 2. If you will need to transfer to a 4-year college to complete your degree, check with that university to see if they will accept the credits of the career school. 3. Do some research on the career college itself. Don't just believe what you see in their commercials or hear from their recruiters. 4. If you will need to take a certifying exam, check with the certifying body to see if the school you are considering will give you what you need to proceed with the test.
Don't let anyone steal your dream just because they have a slick commercial!