Who’s Cashing in on the Post-Secondary Myth?

I’ve made some bad choices in my day. As the summer rolls around again, I’m reminded of them.

There are some jobs I shouldn’t have taken, things I shouldn’t have said, purchases I shouldn’t have made, haircuts I should have avoided and several guys I shouldn’t have dated.

There is one mistake, however, that rankles me more than the others. I went to a for-profit college.

Oh, I tried traditional university first, and while it wasn’t for me, I don’t regret the time or money I spent there nearly as much. It’s the for-profit school that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Is there a worse feeling then knowing that you’ve been taken for a fool?

I bought into the post-secondary myth with a vengeance. In five years I’ve tried four programs at three different schools. And at the end of the day I have to say that province-run Universities try to do their best for you. They want you to succeed and give you every resource they can. They have their problems (that’s another post or you can read this one on the student union at Concordia) but they aren’t evil.

For profit schools, on the other hand…

A for-profit post-secondary institution is pretty much what it sounds like; a school run independent of provincial legislation on a money-making basis. And do they ever make their money.

I did one year of Hotel Management at {CENSORED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY]} College, and it was passable. Barely. I was frustrated enough with the poor quality, lack of organization and lackadaisical teaching that I decided to switch out to one of their on-line programs; Multi-media techniques. The admin rep promised me cutting edge technology, convenient on-line access to teachers and resources, and industry standard, applicable knowledge. Best of all, they promised I’d never, ever have to do group work. “Sounds good!” I said, pulling out my chequebook. “Sign me up!”

I’m two thirds done the one year program now and I can’t decide if I’m more disgusted with the school for creating (and selling) such a dismal program or myself for believing what they told me, but the on-line course materials are 7 years old (I have a class on scanning. Scanning!) the servers are constantly being overwhelmed, the interface is glitchy, the teachers are your usual mixed bag (fair enough) and you can’t for love or money get a schedule until 72 hours before the semester begins. It’s disappointing to say the least. For an uncomfortably accurate description, check out this comic by Ruben Bolling

For-profit schools, particularly those that offer classes on-line are becoming notorious for unethical recruitment processes, inflated claims about job placement upon graduation and terribly low-quality learning materials. As of yet, this problem isn’t as bad in Canada as it is in the states, because many schools do take some federal money, but let me tell you the overhead is low, really low, for these on-line programs.

I don’t doubt that there are high-quality, well-run online or for profit school out there, I just think you should think long and hard before paying fees to an institution whose bottom line is more important than your education, and who doesn’t have to answer to anyone in terms of quality.

Most of these institutions make their money and maintain their enrollment from two classes of students: adults finding themselves in careers that require a piece of paper of some kind to advance more effectively, and students who for whatever reason didn’t qualify for traditional post-secondary education. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what kind of potential there is for damage here.

For any of you out there in internetland who are considering going back to school, or trying your hand at a for-profit be careful. Once your tuition is paid there’s no getting it back (the contracts are pretty iron-clad and I’m pretty sure they keep expensive lawyers locked in a broom closet just waiting for someone to try and wiggle out of them) and there is almost no guarantee that the school will live up to any of its promises. Going into debt sucks make sure you’ve got a good reason to do it.

I’ve got one semester to go and I just want to finish my year, get my receipt and never go to school again. Happy summer vacation.

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