Unlike the breaks between semesters at a not-for-profit, says IT services company owner Peabody, "You finished one course and next Monday, you were onto the next. You didn't have to analyze what courses you had already completed. They said, 'Here are your schedules all the way through to graduation.'"
"The program is mapped out so that you don't need to change classes around" or puzzle over which class to take next, says Adam Lopez, a senior IT business consultant for a West Coast health care provider; Lopez received an associate degree in computer and electronic engineering technology and a bachelor's in information systems security in March 2009 from ITT Tech. "They pretty much walk you through the entire program," he says, unlike at a community college where a student might "have no direction about what you want to do."
"Everyone is always complaining about how some of the classes at community colleges aren't available, so your program can take longer than two years," says Lopez. "At ITT Tech, all the classes are always there."
The cost of that convenience and availability is high: Lopez incurred a school debt of $80,00 to $90,000, which he and his parents are splitting. Now 24, Lopez figures he should repay his loan "within 10 years. I'll be 35, around that time -- still young." (At a 6 percent interest rate, a $90,000 loan costs $1,000 per month to repay in 10 years.)
"Overall, you are paying for convenience," says Reba Gaines, who owns her own IT consulting firm and has $70,000 in loans from her bachelor's in information technology and MBA in technology management programs at the University of Phoenix. While the loans are "going to take a while to repay" she says, "I think it's put me in a position with my career where I'm not as expendable" as she otherwise might be.
The convenience of the online courses was also critical for Gaines, as she was constantly traveling for business while studying. Although almost all schools offer online courses, former students say for-profits seem to do a better job of gearing them to the needs of mobile adult learners.
Regis professor Borrego says Walden University advisers also did a better job during his Management Information Systems doctoral program than advisers he's had at not-for-profits. He says Walden faculty provided constant feedback online, whereas at one state university his adviser failed to appear for their first session "and the second time, showed up 10 minutes late, for a 30-minute session."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.