For-profit colleges under national scrutiny
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
11/17/10 at 5:02 AM
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For-profit colleges are under national scrutiny for low graduation and job placement rates, as well as high loan default figures.
Mindy Lucas is still paying off the debt from a for-profit college she attended a few years ago, although she left it for a less-expensive community college program that has her well on her way to a career.
Shaleeka Skates graduated from Community Care College with $9,000 in student loans and was never able to get a job. Now she is enrolled at Tulsa Technology Center and says she wasted three years of her life.
Proprietary colleges - such as Community Care and the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, where Lucas attended - are being targeted for stricter regulation nationally. A federal government investigation in August caught several colleges lying to students about financial aid, program costs and career opportunities.
A U.S. Senate committee found that proprietary schools have dropout rates of about 57 percent, and nearly all of their students get loans. At community colleges, about 16 percent of students use loans, and 44 percent do so at traditional four-year schools.
Advocates of for-profit colleges say they provide a needed service and are able to offer students faster and more-flexible programs.
"We nurture students in all kinds of ways," said Teresa Knox, founder and president of Community Care College, Clary Sage College and Oklahoma Technical College.
Spartan President Jeremy Gibson said his college has been a major player in Oklahoma aviation since its founding in 1928.
"I feel very good about the industry and I feel very good about the outcomes for our students," he said.
Elected officials in Congress have questioned whether for-profit institutions adequately prepare students for jobs or just mire them in debt.
"It's unfortunate that they get caught up in those loans that they'll never be able to pay off," said Tony Heaberlin, a spokesman for Tulsa Technology Center, which sees many students transfer from proprietary schools.
Students at for-profit schools, who make up about 11 percent of all higher education students, are more likely to take out loans and more likely to default on them, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The department has issued new regulations that will require proprietary schools to disclose their graduation and job-placement rates. The rules, set to take place in July, also will aim to curtail aggressive recruitment and misleading information given to prospective students.
Knox said the most recent job placement rate at Community Care is 82 percent, the graduation rate is 80 percent, and the default rate on student loans is 11 percent.
There are a few bad apples in the for-profit sector, but community and technical colleges are the right fit for many students, she said. Schools such as Community Care can offer on-site child care and expedited programs at convenient times, Knox said.
"It's very life-changing for" our students, she said.
Lucas, 22, moved to Tulsa from Kansas to attend Spartan with the intention of becoming a commercial pilot.
She paid $18,000 up front when she enrolled and continued to pay about $1,000 for her courses and $200-$300 for each hour of flight time.
After about two years, she still hadn't received her instrument rating and was using planes and facilities that were 30 years old, she said.
The instructors were underpaid and frequently left for other, more lucrative opportunities. The 20 students shared three multiengine aircraft, and one was constantly in maintenance, she said.
When she decided that she had seen enough, she enrolled in a different program - traffic control at Tulsa Community College - where classes cost $200 and the aircraft and other equipment were new. Her husband recently made the same move.
Spartan charged her $2,600 to quit, she said.
"I'm just saying, 'Where is the money going?' " she said. "It's not going to any new airplanes or any new facilities. It's just going to their pockets."
Gibson said the aircraft used pass yearly inspection, and several new planes have been purchased since 2007. Turnover among faculty members is common at most flight schools. Instructors frequently move on because they log their flight time while teaching and then move to a job at a regional airline.
"Spartan has a great reputation in the business and the industry," he said.
Barbara Hagy, campus director of Tulsa Tech's Health Sciences Center, said many students transfer to her classes after becoming unhappy with other, far more expensive institutions.
Some sign up for a loan and have to pay thousands of dollars up front. If they can't finish, they can't get a refund, so they wind up with the debt but not a degree, Hagy said.
"They end up being in a worse position than when they started," she said.
Conversely, Knox said, many students enroll at a for-profit institution after becoming unhappy at a community or technical college.
Shaleeka Skates, 26, is in a nursing program at Tulsa Tech. She went to Community Care College three years ago, but after finishing the program, she was unable to find a job.
She didn't receive the hiring support she was promised, she said.
Knox said Skates was told about at least five local job opportunities but doesn't appear to have followed through with those options. She was contacted at least 10 times by placement officials at the college, and some of their messages were not returned.
Skates, who now owes more than $9,000, said she felt pushed into Community Care by persistent recruiters who made promises they couldn't keep.
"I really wish that I would have gone here (Tulsa Tech) first. I really do," Skates said. "I made a huge mistake."
Original Print Headline: Colleges facing scrutiny
Shannon Muchmore 581-8378
Shaleeka Skates participates in an exercise Tuesday for identifying terms related to heart health during a practical nursing class at Tulsa Technology Center's Health Sciences Center. Skates says she switched to Tulsa Tech after making a "huge mistake" in choosing the for-profit Community Care College. ADAM WISNESKI/Tulsa World
Shaleeka Skates sits in teacher Anita Williams' practical nursing class at Tulsa Technology Center's Health Sciences Center on Tuesday. ADAM WISNESKI/Tulsa World
Shaleeka Skates cheers another student's correct answer during a class Tuesday at Tulsa Technology Center's Health Sciences Center. Skates says she didn't receive the hiring support she was promised at Community Care College so she switched to Tulsa Tech. ADAM WISNESKI/Tulsa World