Going to a for-profit school may limit future of students

I’m working with a client to help fill a management level position, and last week we interviewed an applicant with three degrees from a for-profit university.

As college degrees become more important for both hiring and advancement, these for-profit educational institutions are growing in number and presence. For-profit schools are just that — businesses. They are corporations, often with shareholders, that have the objective of making a profit. Education is their product. If you’re thinking about going back to school, here are some things to consider before you commit your time or your money to these businesses.

Consider your objective. If you want a technical skill, the for-profit route may be for you. Most of these schools do not have entrance requirements. Money and a high school diploma or its equivalent will get you a seat in the program.

If you want a college education, consider that the for-profit degrees come with limits. Credits for your work may not transfer to other programs. A bachelor of science degree may not qualify you to move into a graduate program with another school. Most employers will give preference to a candidate with a degree from a traditional university. And if you’re thinking about an advanced degree that will allow you to teach at the university level, don’t even consider the for-profit route. If your objective is flexibility, remember that many traditional universities are now offering online classes and flexible scheduling.

Pay attention to accreditation. Accreditation for the university AND for specific programs is a big deal. Learn what accreditation means. Know what the standard of excellence is. Lack of appropriate accreditation may mean your degree is worth very little.

Pay attention to cost. Congress is now involved in investigating the costs of for-profit schools. Many state schools are now offering online, evening and weekend programs for much less money. For example, the Georgia WebMBA program is a fully online 18-month master’s program offered through a consortium of accredited state university business schools. The cost is roughly half of the for-profit cost. Check out your options fully before you commit.

Investigate the financial health of any for-profit you’re considering. There have been several recent news stories of for-profit universities going belly up, closing their doors and leaving students high and dry. Remember that those credits won’t transfer anywhere. While most schools won’t disclose financial information to prospective students, that information is filed as part of any legitimate accreditation process. Contact the accrediting organization and ask about financial stability of the for-profit school before you commit.

In full disclosure, remember that I teach at one of our state universities. I’m biased. It’s just that I’ve seen a lot of people spend a lot of money on for-profit degrees that simply do not have the credibility of a degree from an accredited traditional program.

Know BEFORE you commit, and buyer beware if you’re considering one of the for-profit schools.

An experienced business executive and organizational consultant, Jan Flynn teaches at the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business at Georgia College & State University.