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For-Profit Colleges: Not the Best Value
Marlo Scott
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Considering college? You should know there are different types out there, with very different costs—something I’ve been figuring out since I enrolled at a “for-profit” school. Private colleges can be for-profit or non-profit. Public colleges are run by the government. Examples of public schools include the CUNY (City University of New York) schools and state schools. Unless you get a huge scholarship, the best value is public college.

I decided to stick with my school, Berkeley College, for my associate’s degree. But I think people should know that Berkeley, like many for-profit schools, is not always clear or transparent about the money they charge their students. For-profits usually cost more and often rank much lower than state schools.

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After I graduated high school, I was determined to go to college. My goal is to become an accountant. But I didn’t know much about how to find the right school.

Impressed by the Tour

My father told me about Berkeley College, which he’d heard about from a coworker, and I took a tour of their Brooklyn campus. The tour really captivated me. Berkeley looks sophisticated: The administrative building has nice navy blue carpet and art on the walls. The school has many computer labs, and there is a library with periodicals and laptops. I learned that the professors worked in the fields in which they teach, and that I could apply for financial aid.

After the tour, I decided to register at the Brooklyn campus. Now I realize I should have looked around more, but I didn’t know that then. The tour made Berkeley seem impressive, but pretty much every college has libraries and computer labs.

I completed my first FAFSA application (the form you fill out to get financial aid) my last week of high school. By the time I enrolled at Berkeley, they were ready to set up a financial aid package for me. Berkeley offers many grants to students who keep a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher. Unlike a loan, grants are money that you do not need to pay back.

Grants, Loans, and No Worries

When I started, Berkeley cost $7,400 a semester just for tuition. There are four semesters a year, so that adds up to almost $30,000 per year. That’s a lot more than a public school would cost, but I didn’t know that then. I tested into the school with an A level, so I qualified for some grants at Berkeley as well as TAP, the New York State grant, and Pell, a federal grant. That came to a total of $4,375 in scholarship money for the first semester.

I had to make up the difference by taking out loans. I took out a subsidized Stafford loan and an unsubsidized Stafford loan. Both are loans offered by the federal government. Between grants and loans, I got $7,983 in financial aid, so I had some money left over for books and subway fare to school.

I did not worry about the loans at the time; I figured I would pay them back when I graduated. I was fairly sure I’d find a high-paying job when I finished school.

I took a full load of classes my first semester. I attended every class and completed all my homework, earning a 3.4 GPA.

The Debt Kept Growing

However, the next semester, I only had enough money for books, not for transportation expenses. The only option I knew about was a Parent Plus loan that my father would have had to take out. But he wasn’t willing to do that. Without that loan, I couldn’t afford a MetroCard and missed classes. I failed that semester.

In the second semester, I was charged $124 that I couldn’t pay. It was for tuition that I thought would be covered by my TAP and Pell grants.

Also, during the end of my first semester, I became homeless after my dad got evicted. I lived in cars and a youth shelter. I explained my situation to the dean of students. A school counselor advised me about homeless shelters, and the school gave me another chance to get my average back up to keep my financial aid. I eventually moved in with a friend’s mother and got my GPA back up. Berkeley did work with me when I was in crisis, and I am grateful for that.

Eventually, my living situation with my friend’s mother fell through and I was homeless once again. My father still refused to take out a Parent Plus loan, which would have paid for what I owed Berkeley College. Nor would he let me live with him. Berkeley deemed my debt uncollectible and turned it over to a collection agency. With interest and fees, the $124 debt ballooned to $1,369 within two semesters.

In April 2013, I went back to the youth shelter. I stayed there until June when they discharged me because I hit their limit of 60 days. I was homeless, unemployed, and owed Berkeley a debt that kept multiplying. These hardships kept me from attending college, my top priority. A cousin from Albany reached out to me, and said I could stay with him until I found my own place.

My cousin advised me to research some schools before I migrated to Albany, which is more than 150 miles from New York City. I looked at accounting industry websites for schools with good associate’s degree programs. I found four schools in Albany, and chose Bryant and Stratton (B&S), a for-profit business school that offers an associate’s degree in accounting.

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But Berkeley College didn’t make it that easy for me to start over. Because they had turned my debt over to a collection agency, it hurt my ability to get other loans or credit cards. And they would not release my official transcript until I paid off my debt. Therefore, I could not transfer my credits.

The dean of students at B&S allowed me to enroll with 12 credits (I had earned 30), provided I paid off my debt to Berkeley within two semesters. I decided to stay at B&S as an undeclared freshman.

I found a place to live and enrolled in classes for the fall semester. How-
ever, after three weeks, I realized that B&S’s accounting program was not as good as Berkeley’s. Berkeley’s intro classes had covered everything in B&S’s second-year courses.

For example, I was shocked that the professor in my Accounting Principles II course was teaching us to do basic recordkeeping with a paper and pencil, as opposed to Microsoft Excel, which everyone uses.

Learning More From Options

I wanted to go back to Berkeley, or possibly to a cheaper public school. Since I was no longer interested in staying at B&S, I came back to New York City. I have found an affordable place to live and have several job leads, so I feel like I can focus on my education again. I have told Berkeley I want to come back, and they say they will waive my debt only if I get my degree there.

I did not know if their offer to waive the growing debt they had already turned over to a collection agency was legal, or if I was getting the best value in a college. I decided to find out more about colleges in general by interviewing Yana Geyfman at Options, a program run by Goddard Riverside Community Center. Options specializes in helping people research, get into, and pay for college. (They’re at bit.ly/optionscollege)

Yana says the worst thing about for-profit colleges is that, “They are not 100% honest with their students about financial aid packaging.” Sometimes Berkeley was unclear and I couldn’t tell if they meant to mislead me or not. For example, my third semester at Berkeley, I was not told that I would only be eligible for a part-time student’s financial aid, which is less.

Bryant and Stratton’s financial aid officers arrange students’ aid on a two-semester basis. This may confuse students unaware of finance. I am comfortable with numbers, and I still thought, after talking to someone in the financial aid office, that the aid they offered me was for one semester, not two. I have since learned that financial aid offices in public or non-profit private (as opposed to for-profit) schools are more careful to spell everything out for students.

Yana added that “for-profit schools are anxious to recruit as many students as they can; that is how they get money to continue functioning.” When I first met with someone in admissions at B&S, she kept asking me if I knew anyone else who wanted to apply. She also said that new students who bring her applicants are eligible for a raffle to win a new PlayStation 4.

I asked Yana if for-profit schools are always a bad choice, and she said not as a general rule. She added, “However, public schools receive money from the state and/or city to fund their programs. For-profit schools must raise their own money. Therefore, public schools are usually more involved and have more interest in seeing their students succeed.”

After talking to Yana, I realize that state schools offer everything for-profit schools do, at much cheaper tuition.

Yana also said that for-profit schools have a bad reputation, so I wondered if that would hurt me when I looked for a job. To find out what top employers are looking for, I interviewed Alan Momeyer, VP of Human Resources (HR) at the Loews Corporation. I asked him if employers care about what school you went to when they are looking for new hires.

He said that the classification of the school, (private non-profit, public, for-profit) is not a big deal. He said he focuses more on applicants’ grades, the completion of their pursuits, and their character. He said HR managers care more about how the applicant answers questions in the interview because those questions are designed to show how you think. HR managers also look at your progress and work history and recommendations from former employers. Your cover letter and resume are also important pieces in the puzzle of the hiring process.

Even though it doesn’t sound like a for-profit degree will hurt me in job interviews, I wish I’d known more about my options—and Options—before I looked for schools. In order to get out of my debt, I am going to get my associate’s at Berkeley College. But I’ve learned that state schools are a better value.

Editor’s note: The Obama Administration has imposed a series of regulations to stop for-profit schools from ripping off students—or the government. (For-profit schools sometimes recruit poor students they don’t think can graduate just to get the federal aid money these students are eligible for.) The regulations include requiring colleges to improve student outcomes or lose access to federal aid. Another regulation makes colleges that repeatedly recruit students who can’t pay off their loans warn all students of the risk they’re taking. Recently, the federal government stopped recognizing the group that accredited for-profit colleges. A federal panel said that the accrediting group let fraud and misrepresentation slide.


For-Profit School?

To find out if a school is for-profit or not, go to this link: nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator. Type in your school’s name and you can see, in the third line, if it says “for-profit.” You can also click on the bottom category, “Cohort Default Rates” and see how many students were unable to pay back their loans on time. A higher number means many students either did not graduate or could not get a good enough job to pay back the loans they needed for tuition.

Here’s another tool to find out a college’s graduation rate and loan repayment rate: collegescorecard.ed.gov


For more on for-profit colleges, go here: representmag.org/issues/NYC228/Scam_U..html?story_id=NYC-2011-09-16.

(FCYU-2016-10-23)