Considering a for-profit school? Do your homework first.
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
In a tight job market, education can make the difference between getting hired and getting passed over for another applicant.
Many North Carolinians are going back to school to learn new job skills, and our state’s local community colleges offer quality education at an affordable price. Private, for-profit career and trade schools can also train students to qualify for jobs such as automotive technicians, medical assistants, and paralegals. But check out a school thoroughly before you enroll.
Some for-profit schools offering classes are excellent. But others seem to be more interested in making money than keeping their promises to students. My office recently won a court order to stop a for-profit school, Thomas Healthcare Institute, that had lost its license to teach classes but kept operating and collecting tuition.
Tuition at some for-profit schools can cost up to four times what a community college might charge, and their claims of top quality teachers and classes and high job placement rates and future salaries can turn out to be hollow.
To avoid problems, do your homework before enrolling at a for-profit college or trade school:
Check out the school thoroughly before you sign up. If a recruiter offers to enroll you immediately and help you fill out financial aid forms, the recruiter may be trying to meet an enrollment quota and might not have your best interest at heart.
Shop around and compare prices. A community college may offer the same degree at a fraction of the price. The North Carolina Community College System also regulates private business, correspondence, trade and technical schools. Visit www.nccommunitycolleges.edu/ to check out a trade school or to get information on a local community college.
If a school’s recruiter promises that it will be easy to get a job in your field after graduation, or guarantees you’ll earn a certain income, be skeptical.
Check out the school’s graduation rate. If many students don’t complete the program, it may be a sign that the school isn’t keeping its promises. Talk to current students about their experiences with the school.
Ask about class sizes and instructors’ qualifications. Sit in on a few classes. Does the school have adequate space, equipment, instructional material, and personnel to provide quality training? Also, find out if the school is accredited by checking with the US Department of Education at http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.
If you plan to transfer at some point, ask if the school’s credits will transfer. Then check with the schools you may end up transferring to. See if they will accept the coursework.
Ask for the course outline, schedule of tuition, fees, books and other charges, rules on missing class, grading policy and rules of conduct. All schools operating in North Carolina are required by law to provide this information in writing.
If you take out a student loan, read it carefully and make sure you understand the terms before you sign. You’ll be responsible for paying off the loan whether or not you complete the program. If someone asks you to lie or bend the truth on a financial aid application, walk away. Be very skeptical if the school says your employer will probably pay off your student loans.
Before getting a private loan, research state and federal loan, scholarship, and grant opportunities at www.cfnc.org/. If you’re a veteran or service member, you can get accurate information about your GI Bill benefits at www.gibill.va.gov/.
Review materials the school gives you carefully, including the contract, before you sign up. If the school refuses to give you information in writing or tells you that you must first sign a contract, look elsewhere. If a school official makes promises that don’t appear in the school’s written documents, ask to get them in writing.
To report a problem or check out a for-profit trade school, contact my Consumer Protection Division toll free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. You can also file a consumer complaint with us at www.ncdoj.gov