Going to a private college? Obtain accreditation


In the movie “The Music Man,” Mayor Shinn, with respect to “Harold Hill,” The Music Man, exasperatedly instructs the town council to “Get that spellbinder’s credentials!”

It was good advice then and still is today — with respect to institutions of higher learning, especially for private colleges and technical schools. Be especially wary of private colleges that guarantee you a great job upon graduation or that promise you will be working in the field making great money within weeks or months after enrollment, or any other assurances that seem too good to be true. Remember, if they seem too good, they probably are.

Recently it was announced in the news that anyone who obtained a federal student loan to attend a school owned by Corinthian Colleges (a good Christian sounding name) will have their loans canceled. The loan forgiveness will benefit an estimated 560,000 student borrowers who owed in excess of $5.8 billion. In conjunction with this, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced that the Department of Education “is actively ramping up oversight to better protect today’s students from tactics and make sure that for-profit institutions — and the corporations that own them — never again get away with such abuse.” Sounds good.

Corinthian Colleges opened in 1995 and suddenly closed in 2015 after the Education Department cut off the institution’s access to federal money. Throughout its history, the school continually defrauded its students. A 2013 complaint by the California Attorney General’s Office alleged “the school targeted poor Californians via ads and marketing campaigns that misrepresented the likelihood of students finding jobs.” Sound familiar? The cancellation comes via the “borrower defense program,” a federal initiative that cancels the debt of students who can prove they were defrauded by their schools. Thus far, this program has supposedly resulted in $18.5 billion in debt forgiveness for approximately 750,000 borrowers.

The Corinthian Colleges debt relief program comes at the same time as President Biden is proposing a more universal student loan forgiveness program — even while payments on federal student loans currently remain frozen in response to the Covid pandemic, which are scheduled to cease at the end of this month. Some political commentators objected to the Corinthian Colleges’ debt relief, seemingly confusing the Corinthian Colleges’ debt relief with the more universal debt relief being proposed by Biden. Whether you agree with the Corinthian Colleges’ debt forgiveness program or not, there is some logic to it in that the Department of Education did approve the student loans, thereby giving seeming credibility and legitimacy to the school.

Further confirmation that private institution fraud is a major problem across the country is an article in the August 2022 issue of The American Legion magazine entitled “The Battle to End GI Bill Abuse.” The article notes that “the problem — especially when veteran students lose their credits and funding due to sudden and unexpected school closures — has led to a six-state wide pilot program to tighten restrictions and increase scrutiny of risky institutions of higher learning that accept students using GI Bill benefits.” The article states that problems “commonly associated with for-profit programs include:

• Sudden school closures

• Inability to transfer credits

• Deceptive marketing and recruitment practices

• Consistently poor institutional performance leaving majorities of graduates without sufficient earnings to repay their loans or simply failing to graduate most of their students at all.”

Later on, the article further notes, “that some institutions of higher learning have deceived students about the schools’ quality of education, tuition and cost, transferability of credits, accreditation, and graduates’ job prospects and salary, including deceptions about graduates’ eligibility to work in licensed occupations.”

Before you sign up for any institute of higher learning, especially a private institution, it is imperative that you obtain their accreditation for not only the school as a whole, but also any courses you plan to take within that institution. It is not unusual for a private school to claim that they are accredited in that some of their courses of study are accredited even though others, and possibly the one you plan to take, are not. There are numerous instances of a student graduating with honors from a recognized private institution and planning to enter graduate school or medical school only to discover too late that his college degree is not acceptable to those next level institutions or to the profession to which they aspire.

In addition to checking to see if the institution you are considering is accredited, check who did the accreditation. Is it a legitimate agency? I know of cases where a small school claimed they were accredited only to discover that they were their own accrediting agency. While this is rare, just note that not all accrediting agencies provide accreditation that is acceptable to other public institutions of higher learning or certain professions.

While I am not saying there are not legitimate private institutions of higher learning, and there are, one should also consider other alternatives such as beginning at a recognized community college like Sinclair or Edison State here in the Miami Valley area. Also consider branch campuses of major colleges, such as Miami University Middletown or Hamilton, which are often significantly less expensive and more accommodating to your schedule than the main campus. One other option to consider is online courses offered by legitimate recognized four-year state colleges.

Remember, if you borrow the money, you must repay that loan even if the school folds or is otherwise unscrupulous. The loan forgiveness program is only available IF you can “prove you were defrauded by the school.” There are numerous students who are obligated to repay the federal government for their associated student loans but have no means of income sufficient to do so. Plus, federal loans are not forgiven via federal bankruptcy — which costs another few thousand dollars to initiate. So, I urge you to use caution, do your due diligence, and as consumer advocate Clark Howard always advises, “Don’t waste your money!”

By Don Shrader

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