In “Education is the Key to Success” I discussed the merits of the argument that an education should guarantee you a job. I contend that it is important to obtain some form of college education. However, it is imperative that students know exactly what type of education they are getting, and from whom they are receiving it. As the New York Times points out in “In Hard Times, Lured into Trade School and Debt,” not all schools are created equal.
There are many “schools” out there promising students the opportunity of a lifetime. They recruit, and recruit hard. They call you constantly. They email you daily. Yet, what they are offering may actually be fools gold. Before signing up to go to any college or university you need to do serious homework.
Some schools are known as “diploma mills”. These are schools where you do very little to earn your degree besides pay tuition. While this might appeal to some people, they are highly upset when the realize that these “degrees” have no weight in the business world. Employers and graduate schools know a fraud when they see it. Diploma mills are often nationally accredited if accredited at all. Keep in mind that it’s not national accreditation you want; instead you’re looking for regional accreditation. This is important. Accreditation is a process through which schools recognize each other. It means that the school has been evaluated and it is agreed upon that the members of that body will accept each others credits. Look up the schools you have heard of and you’ll find that they are regionally accredited, not nationally, and this means that these schools only recognize other regionally accredited schools. If you try to apply to let’s just use Harvard University for graduate school, and your degree is from a nationally accredited institution, they will reject you without looking at any of the rest of your application. Be sure to ASK about accreditation because even major schools have lost it before.
However, other schools that are properly regionally accredited schools still promise the moon and charge you the sky to deliver. As discussed by this article, people who are going for trade school certificates are starting to be fleeced, and often they don’t even have a final credible credential to show for it. One rule of thumb I tell prospective students is that if the school is trying too hard to get you to sign up quick, fast, and in a hurry then the hairs on the back of your neck should stand up. Look for what they aren’t telling you. What happens if you decided to sign up for classes and want to drop them? Can you get your money back? What is the refund policy? What is the institution’s placement rate after graduation? (Although in this economy everyone is having troubles in this area.) How much is the tuition in comparison to other colleges and universities? A 40 thousand dollar per year education, from a little known school may not be worth the sticker price.
A successful college experience centers within your ability to be sure that whatever college you attend, whatever degree or trade school certificate you earn that you can come out of the experience with a debt load you can manage, and a credential that has some long term potential for growth. You’re going to have to get out there and ask tough questions, filter through long-winded answers, and with hope, find the right fit for you.