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Category: Online Education

For-Profit College: Worth It or Not Quite?

for-profit, nonprofit, university, community college, college planning, tuition, cost, employment, accreditation, academics, public university

For-Profit and the Rest

For-profit or nonprofit, public or private, community college or four year college? So many choices confuse the college planning process for our youth and working adult students. Regardless of which option students choose, they all have to pay; tuition, housing, food, medical, transportation, facility fees, and on and on. No matter how students slice it, university life is costly. Whether they’re applying for scholarships, borrowing federal loans or using their GI Bill, selecting the right college track is paramount. While federal and state policies continuously change to a greater or lesser degree, students are generally better off steering clear of for-profit higher education altogether regardless of the sales pitch.

What For-Profits Sell

In the sales world, for-profit institutions boast of greater inclusion and an easier application process. Many of their classes are online, so a typical catch phrase is “flexibility for the working adult.” Counselors often plan everything from course schedules to ordering student books. The seeming ease with which everything is taken care of is tempting; nominal, if any, student self-navigation is required. There are no entrance exams and high school grades are rarely if ever relevant. As a result, for-profits present a shoo-in for all college hopefuls who simply want to “get it done” or believe they can’t make the grade at a credible public or nonprofit private university. In many cases, if prospective students, particularly young adults returning to school after a gap year or extended hiatus, are willing to forfeit colossal sums of money, often without realizing the true cost including cost of living, they select a for-profit because it’s the “easier” route.

Yet the dangers of For-Profit education are evident:

  1. A for-profit degree or credential costs 20-40% more than it would at a public university, schools that far exceed any for-profit’s reputation and quality.

    For example, SDSU’s annual tuition for the 2017/2018 school year is $11,800 whereas the 2015/2016 tuition at DeVry University in Pomona, CA was $16,000. A degree at DeVry is 26% more expensive and far less valuable in the job market.

  2.  Because for-profits accept anyone, students who earn their degrees at these institutions are less likely to gain employment upon graduation.

Applicants with business bachelor’s degrees from large online for-profit institutions are about 22 percent less likely to hear back from employers than applicants with similar degrees from non-selective public schools, says the study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.US News

A for-profit degree simply isn’t as impressive to potential employers, which compounds the difficulty of finding a decent paying job to start paying off that hefty student debt.

  1. Students often drop out before earning a for-profit degree once they realize the sub-par, but expensive education they’ve been sold, which

  • Burdens them with insurmountable debt
  • Increases the likelihood of defaulting on student loans
  • Increases their risk of overall poverty
  1. The consequences of defaulting or failing to repay student loans extend far beyond campus life as students risk:

  • a lawsuit by lenders
  • poor credit and potential bankruptcy
  • qualifying for future education loans and grants
  1. Should students attempt to transfer to a community college or public university, previous credits earned at a for-profit school are rarely transferable.

It will be particularly tough to transfer credits because of the way for-profit colleges are accredited. While most public and nonprofit colleges are regionally accredited, for-profit colleges tend to be nationally accredited. The difference, according to an article in Academe magazine, is that national agencies “use quantitative criteria like completion and job-placement rates,” while regional agencies “consider factors like shared governance and academic freedom.”- Business Insider

In other words, students have to begin all over again, which requires more time, money and commitment.

The For-Profit Bottom Line

In sum, completing a Bachelor’s Degree or higher degree is a holistic commitment to the institution’s social environment, academic curriculum and one’s personal financial responsibility. Since for-profits are often considered “predatory” institutions because their primary responsibility is to their “bottom line” and their shareholders, they prey on the uninformed or ill-informed. Just because something is easy doesn’t make it worth it. Students must free their minds of the for-profit sales pitch, “an effortless fast-track to financial success.” Only then can students pursue quality, cost-effective higher education.

An Optimal Route

The most affordable and credible workaround is your local community college. For an annual $1104 at San Diego City College, this “budget” tuition covers student health services, a full course load of 12 units or four classes and a high-caliber curriculum delivered by respected and talented professors. Many community colleges, whose tuition ranges from $1000-$4000 annually, also offer many courses online to suit working adults’ needs and diverse classroom environments for recent high school grads. Most importantly, almost all units are readily transferable to a reputable public or nonprofit private 4-year college that will yield a higher success rate and more advantageous employment opportunities for a bargain price.

Online Education or Not to Online Education

online learning, university, traditional classroom, in person learning, special needs, education, higher education

Online Education’s Perks 

Is online education an effective learning tool or a duplicitous marketing scam for sub par college courses? Dodging an overwhelming number of conflicting studies, interpretations and opinions, many parents and students feel that it’s nearly impossible to be “on the ball” and make heads or tails of the truth. Therefore, it’s essential to evaluate the two sides of this proverbial online educational coin: the virtues of online education versus its challenges.

On the one hand, many studies suggest that online college courses cost less and provide equal opportunity for less mobile students who are often inundated with work woes and other time constraints. According to Open Education’s “10 Advantages to Taking Online Courses,” the world of online ed is replete with:

  • A broader range of course variety and selection
  • Lower costs for students and the institution
  • Less (if any) commute time
  • Convenience for working students with computer access
  • Course flexibility and “work at your own pace” options

Similarly, Wired Magazine’s Op Ed, “Why Online Learning Is More Valuable Than Traditional College,” asserts that since the dawn of video conferencing, through Skype, Wimba or Google Hangouts, online education possesses almost everything a traditional tutoring or teaching environment includes, but every task can be accomplished without wasted resources and time on traveling, parking, fuel,books, etc. Online visual learning not only provides accountability for both teacher and student, but many contend that the optics also support student-teacher rapport.

Furthermore, The Best Colleges’ “2017 Online Education Trends Report” suggests that online classes may be best suited for “Industry Switchers” or mature adults seeking a career change and “Career Accelerators,” older industry professionals who enroll in additional courses to earn a credits, certificates and/or degrees that yield higher salaries

Online Education’s Challenges

Despite the benefits for working adults, in person or face-to-face education may be the superior option.

For one, a recent 2017 study explored in Inside Higher Ed’s “Online Education Costs More, Not Less,” contends online education is not necessarily more affordable.

21 components of an online course, such as faculty development, instructional   design and student assessment, and how the cost of those components compares to a similar face-to-face course. The respondents — administrators in charge of distance education at 197 colleges — said nine of the components cost more in an online course than in a face-to-face course, while 12 cost about the same.

In other words, students will pay a higher tuition in order to offset the more expensive aspects of online learning even though students may save on time and travel.

Furthermore, Issues in Science and Technology’s article, “The Online Challenge to Higher Education,” highlights the multitude of online academia’s barriers, such as the:

  • predatory nature of for-profit online universities that charge exorbitant fees for a mediocre curriculum
  • lag in updating educational technology and analyzing its trends
  • inability to accommodate the necessary discourse in humanities disciplines
  • absence of “developing expertise through oral expression and presentations”
  • abandonment of lab sciences
  • lack of community to facilitate research and peer learning

Online learning may be convenient for financially astute working adults pursuing vocational training or extension courses, but may not suit the novice university student. Issues in Science and Technology clearly indicates, “Although computer simulations and modeling can capture elements of how to perform research, in many fields the student ultimately needs to be at a lab bench or in the field, interacting with a research team for project-based learning.”

The deficits of online learning for college students with ADHD, Executive Functioning Disorder and other special needs are more pronounced than its advantages in Understood’s study, “Online Colleges: Pros and Cons for Students with Learning and Attention Issues.” For instance, while students are permitted to arrange their own class schedule for online institutions, what if they are not able to manage their time, prioritize and make critical scheduling decisions? The predetermined schedule of in person or traditional classroom education is preferable.

Additional concerns for university students who need more support include a lack of:

  • in person guidance and connection to professors and peers
  • discovery of new interests and skills through social interactions
  • opportunity to make professional connections and build new friendships
  • support services such as individual tutoring
  • social and emotional learning among a group

In sum, online courses are tailored toward motivated and knowledgeable adults who are computer adept and experienced. Online education can bridge a vocational or financial gap for mature learners who are already professionally connected, intrinsically driven and crunched for time.

However, for the beginning university scholar or one who is in need of structure and community, the university classroom may be the more apt environment. Simply put, the convenience of online learning is no substitute for the dynamism of a classroom in which a plurality of ideas, human interaction and campus support coexist for the betterment of every participant.

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