McLEAN, Va. (10/6/10)--As many Americans try to earn more education to get ahead in the tough job market, more questions are being raised about for-profit colleges. Accreditation issues and high student-loan debt are some indicators that may put up a red flag about a school (USAToday.com
Sept. 29). Many for-profit college students take on mountains of debt while in school. The Department of Education has proposed penalizing for-profit colleges whose students graduate with more debt than they can afford. Congress began a series of hearings this summer to investigate whether federal aid to for-profit colleges is being put to good use. Protect yourself before enrolling to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for in a private school, advises Michelle Dosher of the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance, Madison, Wis. Here's how:
* Check accreditation--Ask if specific programs are accredited and by whom. For job-specific training, ask if there are licensing or registration requirements beyond the earned degree and if the program prepares students to take any required exams upon graduation. Then verify the information. * Check graduation, placement and retention rates--The National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, D.C., is a good place to start. * Search for complaints--Most attorney general offices have consumer complaint divisions that log grievances against educational institutions. If not, state education departments should point you in the right directions. Searching the Web also can turn up information about lawsuits, scams, or accreditation issues. * Find earning potential--You can find wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Labor Department breaks down information by specific career and location. * Talk to potential employers--Ask employers if they are familiar with certain private school programs and if they’ve ever hired its grads. * Compare community colleges--Community colleges and public, nonprofit technical schools often offer programs similar to those at private schools--and typically at a much lower cost.
For more information about what to know before you apply to a private college, read “For-Profit Colleges: Study Up Before You Enroll” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center
, and talk to the professionals at your credit union for questions about student aid.