Vocational Education — is it worth the money?

Preying on Uncertainty and Insecurity?

In this difficult economy, many people are looking to upgrade their skills and train for new careers hoping to make themselves more marketable. Vocational education seems like the perfect solution, and we are bombarded by advertising from these schools all day long promising prospective students that they will have a brighter future if they would just enroll at one of these institutions and complete a program. Of course no one can guarantee that you will get a job, but it just seems logical that targeted education should give you an edge in the job market.

I already have a bachelor’s degree, but I would like to get into information technology, so off I went for a tour of one of these national institutions that has a campus in my area. I was not ready to commit to anything at that point. I was just seeking information to see if this might be a good option for me.

First Impression

When I pulled up in front of the building I was immediately struck by how small and sterile the place seemed.  Everything was just on one floor with the administrative offices on one side and the classrooms and labs on the other side of the building. There was also a small open lounge area for students with a tv and a couple of vending machines dispensing  snacks and beverages.

I have had the privilege of attending some excellent public colleges and universities that had real campuses complete with student activity centers, libraries and other things that contribute to a total college experience which is a lot more than just studying.  And I was really struck by the difference between what I experienced while in college and what was being offered at this place – and this was before we even got to the tuition.

Sticker Shock

By the end of the tour, I was very skeptical and not feeling like this was the place for me which was solidified when my guide explained that the average cost to complete the program that I was interested in was $45,000.  I did not pay anywhere close to that amount for a 4-year degree! Graduate school didn’t even cost that much. Furthermore, if you do not graduate, the credits are not transferable to any other school. That settled it.

I explained that I could not commit to that kind of tuition, and the guide countered with an offer of a $25,000 scholarship that was available to most students, but even with that I would still have to come up with around $20,000 which is not an insignificant amount of money. After I said that, my guide replied,”You’re acting like you have to pay that right now.” Maybe not, but that tuition has to be paid at some point because they are not running a non-profit organization.

It was a nice place, and everyone that I met was very polite and eager to help, but the overall experience just left me feeling like they were primarily interested in enrolling students and collecting tuition. I had an uneasy feeling about it that I could not shake, and I knew that I would not be pursuing anything at that school.   Back at home, I tossed out all the literature and the business cards that I received during the tour since I would not need any of it.

Federal Government Sues ITT Tech

Not two weeks later, I read that the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau was suing ITT Educational Services Inc for steering students into predatory loans. This 34-page complaint was filed on February 26, 2014 and charges the following:

 ITT, a publicly traded, for-profit corporation, assures consumers who enroll in classes at one
of its 149 locations throughout the country, or in its online programs, that it will help them obtain
more desirable jobs and higher income to better their lives.
This offer comes with a high price tag, however, and the low-income consumers whom ITT
targets can rarely afford to pay its high tuition out-of-pocket. Therefore, ITT’s business model relies
on convincing these consumers to obtain federal aid, mostly loans, to pay ITT.
Federal aid, mostly loans, taken out by consumers comprises the overwhelming majority of
ITT’s revenue.

The complaint is seeking restitution, civil penalties and injunctive relief.

During my visit, I was struck by how casually  loans were discussed like it was as simple as signing some papers and then you don’t need to worry about it until some distant point in time.

Fortunately, I had enough sense to avoid being talked into making a hasty decision, but what about those who don’t know any better? It’s a really slick presentation, and if you are not familiar with higher education, you could easily be misled about your future and your obligations.

As for me, I am still weighing my options and checking into community colleges and online classes to see how can best get the training that I want — without mortgaging my future.

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