For-Profit Schools: Do Your Homework Before You Enroll
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
In these uncertain economic times, many North Carolinians are heading back to school to improve their job opportunities. Your local community college is always a good place to turn for high-quality programs at an affordable price. There are also reputable career and trade schools that can help students learn the skills they need to find work as an automotive technician, court reporter, medical assistant, hair stylist, computer programmer, paralegal or other careers.
What about for-profit schools that offer classes in person or online? Some are excellent but others can charge quadruple the price of more affordable options. Unfortunately, some of these schools seem to be more interested in making money than living up to their promises.
Unscrupulous schools may try to take advantage of people who suddenly find themselves out of work. To boost enrollment and the bottom line, some schools mislead prospective students about their graduates’ salary potential or job placement rates. They may also overstate the caliber of their programs, the qualifications of their teachers, and their connections with business and industry.
Members of the military and veterans can also be special targets of for-profit schools because of their access to educational benefits, commonly known as the GI Bill. We recently worked with other state AGs to shut down a misleading website called GIBill.com that looked like an official military website but only steered veterans to costly for-profit schools. We’re continuing to work with other states to investigate the recruiting and business practices of some for-profit colleges.
Before you decide to enroll at a for-profit college or trade school, do your homework first. Follow these tips to select a reputable educational program that won’t end up hurting you financially:
- Don’t sign up until you’ve checked out the school thoroughly. If a recruiter offers to enroll you immediately and help you fill out financial aid forms, the recruiter may need to meet enrollment quotas and might not have your best interests at heart.
- Compare prices. Community colleges often offer the same degree at a fraction of the price of for-profit schools. The North Carolina Community College System also regulates private business, correspondence, trade and technical schools. Visit http://www.ncccs.cc.nc.us/ to check out a particular trade school or to get information on enrolling in a community college.
- If you take out a student loan, read it and make sure you understand repayment terms before you sign. You’ll be responsible for paying off the loan whether or not you complete the program. Never agree to lie on a financial aid application, and be very skeptical if the school tells you your employer is likely to 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 servicemember, get accurate information about your GI Bill benefits at www.gibill.va.gov.
- If the program sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Right now, jobs are hard to get, so if a school’s recruiter promises you’ll easily find employment in your field after graduation or are guaranteed to earn a certain income, be skeptical.
- Look at the school’s graduation rate. If few of the students who enroll actually complete the program, it may be a sign that the school isn’t living up to its promises. Talk to current students about their experiences with the school and ask whether it’s meeting their expectations.
- 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 athttp://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.
- If you plan to transfer at some point, ask if the school’s credits will transfer. If they say yes, verify what they tell you by checking to see if other schools you may wish to transfer to 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.
- Review the 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 for another school. If a school official makes promises that don’t appear in the school’s written documents, ask to get them in writing.
If you’ve experienced problems or want to find out if we have complaints about a particular school, contact my Consumer Protection Division toll free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. You can also file a complaint with us at www.ncdoj.gov