In the customer service world, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos tells us, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends”. As a Title IV certified financial aid officer who has worked in a proprietary school, as a graduate who has studied at a proprietary school, and as a current student completing a doctorate degree at a proprietary school, I can attest this reality is cause for the misguided stereotype given to all proprietary, or for-profit, post-secondary school in the US.
As is the case for most things in life, not all proprietary schools are the same, and I would like to clear up some misconceptions about proprietary schools and some tips for students who are considering attending a proprietary school.
First, a definition: a proprietary school is a school typically run by a business and is usually nationally accredited. To better understand proprietary, there are three main types of post-secondary education: public, private, and proprietary. A public university would be University of California, Berkeley. A private university would be Stanford. And, a proprietary school would be Devry University.
It is also important to understand from where the majority of operational funding comes. The public university receives federal funding (not to be confused with financial aid); the private school relies on religious organizations, endowments, grants, and charitable donations; and the proprietary school relies on student tuition and business investments. Understand that the type of school does not determine the quality of the school.
From this point forward, I will refer to proprietary schools as “PS”.
PS’ Financial Aid truths and Myths
Not all PS are eligible to offer federal financial aid. Contrary to popular belief, the eligibility for federal financial aid is not due to the school being proprietary. The truth is financial aid eligibility is determined by the length of time the school has been open, the number of students who have graduated, and how the school is accredited. As I mentioned above, most PS are nationally accredited.
What does this mean? Well, post-secondary education have two different types of accreditation — regional or national. Universities and 4-year colleges, for the most part, are regionally accredited. The regional accreditation requires a standardized curriculum, general education along with specialized classes specific to one’s major, successful graduation and job placement ratios. In general, post-secondary schools which offer a range of majors leading to a degree can qualify for regional accreditation. This, of course, does not mean that all regionally accredited schools are considered the best in the country; however, all must meet at least a minimal standard.
National accreditation, on the otherhand, is typically major-specific, meaning if you’re studying massage, your school is probably accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Similar to regional accreditation, national accreditation requires a certain measurable standard for every school who chooses the national accreditation associated with its major. Choosing accreditation is voluntary, and opting out of accreditation does not necessarily mean that the school is does not offer a quality education: it may simply mean that it does not meet all of the requirements of the associated accrediting body.
Now, how is accreditation associated with financial aid eligibility?
- First, a PS must be accredited to offer federal financial aid. Schools which are not accredited are aware of this fact; however, it might not deter them from their choice not to be accredited.
- Second, a school’s accrediting body must be recognized by the department of education, the agency responsible for regulating financial aid. All regionally accredited schools are eligible to offer federal financial aid; however, not all nationally accredited schools are eligible. I don’t have the time to discuss which national accrediting bodies are or aren’t approved by the department of education, but this is a situation of buyer beware. It is the student’s responsibility to find out who accredits the school, if anyone, and ask what types of financial aid is available.
- Finally, a PS should offer options for financing one’s education. If federal financial aid is not available, the school may offer alternative loans — such loans are at a higher interest rate and require a minimum credit score, but often allow students to finish school before having to repay — or payment plans.
PS’ transfer of Credits Truths and Myths
Some PS admission officers, working on commission, may deceive prospective students by telling them that credits earned at their school can be transferred to any other school. After learning the truth that a school’s credits cannot be transferred, complaints are made to the school and shared with friends, creating the belief that no PS credits can be transferred. This belief, however, is not true of all schools.
- First, accreditation can determine credit transferrability. This is where the student will have to do some research. If a PS is a stepping stone to further education, the student should ask around to various schools where he might transfer. He should ask about transferrability. Other educational institutions may accept all, some, or no credits earned at a PS. While not all nationally accredited PS can guarantee transferrability, regionally accredited schools usually have no problems transferring credits. They may limit the amount of transferred credits to ensure that a student attends their school for a specified amount of time.
- Second, transferrability may be determined by the number of hours completed to earn credit at the PS. If a student receives credit for attending a total of 10 hours, and another school requires 50 hours worth of attendance to earn that same credit; it is unlikely the credits will transfer. Again, this will require research on the part of the student. He needs to find out the curriculum requirements of the PS and then compare them to that of the school where he wishes to transfer.
My thoughts in this blog are in no way designed to dissuade a student from attending a PS. There are many quality schools, both vocational certificate granting ones and degree granting ones. My advice to you, before signing any enrollment agreement or paying any non-refundable application fee is research. A student cannot simply rely on what the school says or what information is contained on the website. Second, don’t make assumptions. If you have attended a PS before, consider that its policies may not be the same as another PS. Finally, don’t be afraid to pursue post-secondary education. If you have a passion, the best thing you can do is better educate yourself so that you can confidently say you are qualified to be of service.