Students across the country say they have been shamed by for-profit colleges promising a great education and career prospects. Here’s what nursing students should know before enrolling in any degree program to ensure it is a wise investment.
Imagine spending years in nursing school only to learn that a degree from the college you’re attending won’t actually qualify you for the nursing job of your dreams. Unfortunately, this can be a devastating reality for many students across the United States who attend for-profit colleges.
For-profit colleges have received a lot of negative headlines in recent years. There have been several cases of for-profit colleges shutting down without notice to enrolled students—leaving them without options for continuing their education. Others have faced lawsuits by students claiming they were shamed and their degrees are worthless in the job market.
Many for-profit college programs advertise flexible class schedules, accelerated learning, and high job placement. However, with so much controversy surrounding these colleges, it’s smart to thoroughly investigate if the college you are considering will provide you with the education and job prospects you seek.
A growing number of nursing students have found out the hard way the true cost of some for-profit colleges. They are left with massive student loan debt and useless degrees that won’t get them a job. And to make matters worse, traditional colleges and universities won’t accept their transfer credits.
A November 2017 study published by The Century Foundation found that for-profit college students accounted for a staggering 99% of applications for student “loan relief from students who maintain that they have been defrauded or misled by federally approved colleges and universities.”
Like many students, you may be enticed by what some for-profit colleges offer in terms of flexible class schedules, online learning options, accelerated degree programs, and less competitive admissions requirements. Public colleges and universities are more competitive, and a for-profit program can seem like an easier path.
For-profit colleges are known for targeting nontraditional students who desire more flexible education programs and want to enter into a certain field or industry such as nursing. But some college advisors steer students away from such colleges.
“Our general advice about for-profit colleges is to avoid them if at all possible,” says Evelyn Alexander, founder/owner of Magellan College Counseling, an independent service that helps students with the college admissions process.
The first step to a successful nursing career is to do your research for any degree program you are considering prior to enrolling. It’s smart to do due diligence to ensure you are making a wise investment of time and money in your education.
Here are some tips to help you determine if the college you’re considering is a good choice for a successful nursing career.
Know the Status
You should always know upfront the status of the college you’re considering. Colleges and universities can be state, nonprofit, or for-profit. This is the first thing to know when deciding on a nursing program.
“I started poking around several college websites, and it’s very difficult to determine if a college is for-profit, because they generally don’t announce it,” Alexander says. “I think the best way to deal with this is to ask, upfront, immediately, if the college is nonprofit. Just come out and ask, and if it is not nonprofit, see if there are other options available to you.”
Alexander notes that a private college can be either for-profit or nonprofit, while public colleges/universities are publicly owned and always nonprofit. Alexander almost exclusively guides her clients toward nonprofit colleges and universities.
Seek Out Accredited Programs
One of the major problems that many for-profit students encounter is that their college program doesn’t have the industry-recognized accreditation that employers want. Many students find this out only after they have spent time and money on a degree and begin job hunting.
While most for-profit colleges do have accreditations, they may not be the specific accreditations employers look for in nursing job candidates. In addition, without the right accreditations, your credits won’t transfer to another school.
For nursing programs, look specifically for schools with Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accreditation. Also, look for nursing school programs that are regionally accredited (e.g., accredited by a state board of nursing), as this is an indication that other colleges/universities are more likely to accept transfer credits. Beware of nursing programs that don’t meet these criteria.
You can also contact other nonprofit/state colleges/universities in your area and ask if they accept transfer credits from the college in question. You want to keep your options open for transferring to another college in case it is necessary. So, it’s best to know from the start if your credits will transfer.
Don’t Fall for Pressure Tactics
One common complaint about for-profit colleges is that admissions staff pressure potential students into enrolling or don’t offer sound admissions and financial aid guidance. If the admissions reps are using pressure tactics or making big promises about job prospects, beware. Admissions reps should be enthusiastic about what their school has to offer, but they shouldn’t be like a pushy car salesman.
For-profit colleges usually have an easier admissions process than nonprofit/state colleges and often do not require test scores such as the SAT/ACT, a certain GPA, or the like. This makes enrollment easy; especially for nontraditional students or those working full-time. However, nursing programs with the proper accreditation will likely have a more competitive admissions process—and that’s a good thing.
Do graduates of the nursing program you’re considering actually get nursing jobs in your area? An easy way to start researching actual job placement success for a college is to utilize online resources such as LinkedIn to search for graduates of the program you’re considering and take note of their job history. Are graduates working for reputable health care organizations in your area? Or do they have non-nursing jobs? While this is anecdotal research, it’s a good way to get an idea of job prospects.
While you’re online, do a Google search for the school and read student reviews and ratings. Are there a lot of complaints or low ratings? Your online search may also bring up news articles that mention the college, which could provide information about pending lawsuits filed by previous students. You don’t want to enroll in a college in legal or financial jeopardy.
If there are no red flags from your online research, pick up the phone and call large employers, such as hospitals and clinics in your area, to speak with an HR representative to see if they consider graduates from the college for job openings. Or attend a local job fair and make a point to speak directly with health care recruiters to ask if they regularly recruit or hire graduates from the college you’re considering. Don’t just take the college admissions advisor’s word that employers hire their graduates.
Already Enrolled in a For-Profit Nursing Program?
What if you are already enrolled in a for-profit program? If you’ve already started a program it’s not too late to check on the school’s accreditation and reputation among employers. You may discover that your school meets the industry-recognized criteria for nursing education such as ACEN and has solid regional accreditations.
If you do find some red flags with your current college, first assess what exactly is causing you alarm. For instance, is the only red flag some negative student reviews online? That in itself should not be cause for much concern. However, if you find your college isn’t ACEN and regionally accredited or there are rumors about the school closing or facing legal action, you should reconsider what your realistic job prospects are going to be if you continue with the
Alexander says if one of her clients was enrolled in for-profit institution she would likely advise them to start looking for another program. “They may run into a problem ensuring that all of their credits transfer to another institution; but I would say it’s probably better to get out in the middle than to wait until they finish, when they may hit a barrier in finding a job.”
Choosing a good nursing school is vitally important to your nursing career. All students should be knowledgeable about industry education standards and not rely on admissions representatives who have enrollment quotas to meet and don’t always have your best interest at heart. And if a program sounds too good to be true, it may lead to major disappointment down the
“What seems like a good idea for certain reasons may be overshadowed by much larger drawbacks,” Alexander warns. “This is why we advise against for-profits. It’s not really a good investment if your degree doesn’t get you a job or if you end up owing money on student loans, you haven’t finished your degree, and the next school you attend doesn’t recognize your credits.”