To increase the chances of a worthwhile education, students (and their employers) should choose only schools that have the most prestigious levels of accreditation, meaning they are members of the nation's six top regional accrediting agencies rather than from national, industry-based, and lesser regional agencies. The top regional accreditation agencies are the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Accreditation from these agencies means the school has met the highest educational standards, and credits earned from it can be transferred to most other schools.
Of the major for-profit colleges, Capella, DeVry, Kaplan, University of Phoenix, and Walden are accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. ITT Tech is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a less prestigious national agency that mostly accredits smaller schools providing primarily job-related training.
Education Sector's Miller warns of expensive courses in "aspirational" fields such as computer animation, special effects, and graphic design for which there are few jobs. Chip White, co-founder of DegreeInfo.com, a website for those interested in online education, says that trade and technical schools, which cater to those looking for lesser-skilled jobs such as basic computer repair, "are some of the worst offenders" in overcharging students for the jobs they're being prepared for.
Other tips include checking the school's loan default rate, graduation rate, and the average level of debt graduates carry. Some observers also suggested comparing a for-profit's curriculum with that of not-for-profits in the same area, and making sure that the job you're being trained for is actually in demand.
Jesús Borrego, now a faculty member at Regis (RGS) University, looked carefully at online universities and was "very disappointed" by some that promised a doctorate in suspiciously short time periods. One, for example, told him he could get his doctorate in two years, by giving him "lots of credit for life experience. We'll get you in and out -- that was their basic pitch. I could save a lot of money by getting Photoshop and printing a degree" instead, he says.
When for-profit colleges do deliver for their studentsSome for-profit colleges' students, even those with substantial debt, say they were happy to pay extra for guaranteed access to classes, flexible schedules, and more help planning an education and career.
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