The trouble with for-profit colleges

For-profit colleges are offering students a variety of new degrees, but not as many job options.

As for-profit colleges enter the Ontario market, they attract students looking to improve their academic future. Many do not even require a high school diploma; students simply must pass an entry test to gain admission. Students at for-profit colleges include people who initially left college or chose not to attend, and are now choosing a new career later in life.

For many, this seems like a dream come true. But some students are finding it difficult to obtain employment after graduation.

John Sargent recently obtained his Addictions and Community Services diploma from Everest College, a for-profit college with a campus in his hometown of Newmarket, Ontario. He returned to college in his fifties, to further his education after being laid off. Though he enjoyed the hands-on learning environment, his experience had its share of challenges as well.

“Everest just isn’t recognized on the same level as, say, Humber College,” Sargent explains, “I wanted to use my degree to get a job working with Blue Door Shelters, which is a local addictions service. But after I graduated, I found out they only accepted applicants with two year professional, accredited degrees. Mine was finished in sixteen months, so to them it didn’t count.”

Eight months after graduation, Sargent is still unemployed.

“During my college placement, things were working out great,” he says, “Everest has no trouble finding you a good placement. But when it came to actually finding work, things got harder.”

This was not the only struggle Sargent faced while furthering his education.

“We paid for six hour classes – from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. But the professors in my program would dismiss class at 11:00a.m. I didn’t think that was fair, so I wrote some letters to the admissions office. After that, our courses ran until 1:00p.m. But that’s still only five hours a day, not the six we paid for,” says Sargent.

The dubious reputation of for-profit colleges has already reached the ears of employers. Donald Templeton, a manager with aeration company Golfer’s Green Lawn Care, has been hiring students out of college for well over twenty years. He is well acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of every post-secondary institution in the province.

“I won’t rule anyone out because of the college they attended,” he says, “When I hire employees I look for a very specific set of skills that they should have picked up in college. Do I think a student at a for-profit college, like Everest or DeVry, is likely to have been taught those skills? Absolutely not.”

Students of mainstream universities share Templeton’s views. John Proulx, a student at McMaster University, never entertained the notion of attending a for-profit college.

“To me they’re just a waste of money. Attend a community college if you can’t get in anywhere else, but I wouldn’t waste my time at a for-profit school. At my university everyone looks down on them; they just don’t have a good reputation,” says Proulx.

Tuition at for-profit colleges is generally higher than at traditional colleges.

“I had a friend at Seneca who paid $6,000 to $6,500 for a full year of schooling,” Sargent says, “My school expenses, books included, were over $15,000.”

In September 2010, a group of Utah students launched a lawsuit against Everest College, claiming that few schools would accept transfer credits from the for-profit university. Everest College maintains that they withheld no information from the students. The case is still ongoing.

There were, however, elements of Sargent’s college experience that he found beneficial.

“My education was more hands on, which was better than a public college in that sense,” he says, “We did lots of modules, and I really enjoyed that. We’d act out real-world scenarios, and that was good practical knowledge.”

Sargent does not regret his for-profit college experience.

“I feel more employable having graduated from Everest, and I haven’t given up on job hunting yet. You’re never too late to change your life around and start a new career. I think that’s what schools like Everest are all about.”

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