For-profit colleges and universities are a booming business in the United States. The Education Department says that nearly 2 million students were enrolled in non-profit colleges in 2008-representing a tripling of enrollment in a decade.
These institutions claim to offer some valuable services for students. Often, the programs are highly targeted to specific skills that students need to get jobs or to move up the ladder in their careers. The courses are offered at convenient times and locations, and, increasingly, through webinars and other online media. Instructors are often professionals in the fields that they are presenting, so they can give real-world insights that will aid the students.
However, critics of for-profit institutions say that these promises are rarely met. They point out that for-profit colleges have dismal graduation records and even more dismal ability to help students get the job placement that they are seeking. The stories about students who have graduated from these schools or quit midway through – with tens of thousands of dollars of debt – are becoming increasingly common. In fact, they are so common that the U.S. Congress and Education Departments have started investigating the problem and identifying the schools with the worst track records.
So, given the two stark worlds, how can an individual decide whether or not to take classes from a for-profit institution. The decision must begin with an honest assessment of the student’s needs and skills. Are the courses necessary for reaching a career goal, and will those specific courses move the student along the path? Does the student have what it takes to read, write, do arithmetic, and study? Can the student make the time commitment to listen to the lectures and participate in group projects, which are quite common in the programs?
If the answers to the self-reflective questions are yes, then it’s time to search for a reliable, trustworthy program. The best way to do so is to go to one the accredited colleges. But be careful, as there are many accreditations available today, and some are much more respected than others. The best, the gold standard are the Regional Accreditation Agencies. These handle non-profit and for-profit institutions, and this is important because it means that coursework earned in one school in the system will generally be accepted by the other schools.
There are six Regional Accreditation Agencies in the U.S. Find a for-profit school that is approved within its geographic region:
1. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico.
2. The New England Association of Schools & Colleges. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont.
3. The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming.
4. The Northwest Association Of Schools And Colleges. Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
5. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Alabama , Florida , Georgia , Kentucky , Louisiana , Mississippi , North Carolina , South Carolina , Tennessee , Texas , Virginia.
6. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington.
Picking courses that are clearly aimed at your needs and then going to a reputable school will give you a great opportunity to take advantage of the flexibility and real-world teaching that is offered by for-profit colleges and universities.