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For-profit colleges & technical schools: buyer beware

by Mary Mazzoni on July 14, 2012

You’ve seen the T.V. commercials and online ads.  Happy graduates enjoy their new careers as the announcer describes flexible scheduling and individualized support.

Often youth with disabilities are drawn to for-profit colleges and technical schools because they promise state-of-the-art instruction without the need to meet entrance criteria often required for public and non-profit schools.

Remember the wise adage – “If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is.”

Before putting down cold cash for tuition or committing to a student loan, ask hard questions and seek information from objective sources.

Make an informed career choice

Before investing in a college or career program, our kids need to make informed choices about their career path. This takes time.

During the high school years, your child should be involved in career interest and aptitude assessment and should research a variety of careers.

Supplement formal and informal assessments with real-life experiences such as job shadowing, volunteering and interviewing people who work in careers of interest.

The Department of Labor’s free website My Next Move provides information about the hiring outlook, wages, and general skills and training requirements for most careers. Learn more about My Next Move here.

My Next Move will help your child answer questions such as:

  • Is there strong labor market demand for this career?
  • Does the wage I’m likely to earn justify the expense of this education or training program?

Your child should also consult with a guidance counselor and/or vocational rehabilitation counselor to learn about:

  • any certification or credential exam required for careers of interest
  • skills needed to pass such exams
  • related careers that may require different skills

 Make an informed school choice

Don’t choose a program until you’ve thoroughly researched your options. Compare and contrast several schools that will provide the required education and training for your child’s career of choice.

Your child can find out about college, trade and technical school programs through a guidance counselor, vocational rehabilitation counselor and the US Department of Education’s College Navigator website.

Once your child compiles a list of  programs related to his/her career goal:

For career and technical school programs - Here are important considerations from:

For online “distance learning” programs -  Significant motivation, time management and independence are needed for success.

  • Here’s a self-assessment to help discern if online learning is a good choice.
  • Before registering for an online program of study, your child should try-out online learning with a single class.

Placement tests

The purpose of placement tests is to determine if a student has the skills needed for the course of study. Placement tests are different than tests like SATs that are used by many 4 year colleges, along with other factors, to decide whether to admit students.

For example, most community colleges have an “open admissions” policy.  Anyone can be admitted. However, placement tests are used to determine if the student can enroll in college credit classes.

Effective transition planning requires students to adequately prepare for placement tests. The two placement tests most often used by colleges are COMPASS and Accuplacer. Most non-credit career programs use either  TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) or WorkKeys.

Some students are attracted to for-profit programs that do not require placement testing. This can be a dangerous approach. The question remains – does the student have the skills needed to succeed in the program, and to go on to qualify for the career of interest? Many students have taken out loans to pay for programs for which they did not have the skills to succeed.

Do your homework. Find out what placement test is used for the postsecondary programs that are of interest to your child. Support your child to prepare for placement tests using study guides and by identifying key skills for inclusion in his/her IEP.

FAQ on student loans and postsecondary choices

The Transition Policy Consortium at the Research and Training Center of Portland State University has put together a brief, user-friendly guide. It helps students think about important questions before and after committing to a student loan. Download it free here.

Your turn

There is a dizzying variety of postsecondary education and training options. It takes time to research careers and related programs. But it’s time well spent.

Start early. If you’ve got questions, this is a great place to ask them. We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Or feel free to send me an email.

Did you find this post helpful? Please share it. Thanks!

Enjoy the journey – one day at a time!

Photo Credit: Sterlic at Flickr

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