Originally published in May 2010, I thought I would update this article for those who are currently considering attending a private career/vocational college in the fall of 2012.
Post started here: This post is for all those who are considering applying for admission to any post-secondary institution, whether it is a public university, a public college or a private career college. My message is this: It is your responsibility to figure out if the major or program you want to take is likely to provide a job when you are finished.
True, it would be helpful if all post-secondary institutions didn’t offer programs unless they knew jobs were available, but no one can be that certain. But, unlike a university degree, where skills can be generalized to any number of occupational fields, public and private career college programs tend to be very job specific.
The Importance of Preliminary Research
So, doing preliminary homework is crucial. Why? Because if you put all your time and money (student loans) into something only to find out, once you have graduated, that there are no jobs, not only will you be unemployed but you will owe a ton of money.
And, if you can’t pay that money back and default, it will have serious consequences all around. It will be a black mark on the college you attended, whether it was private or public. And, it will adversely affect your credit rating, which in turn can make it difficult to rent an apartment, let alone get further financing for a vehicle or anything else.
That said, the biggest risk is if you are considering attending a private career college, simply because both tuitions and student loan default rates are higher.
Some background on program planning
Mind you, it doesn’t have to be that way. About ten years ago, I was hired as an education consultant for a private career organization that provided completed job-based programs for their franchisees — such as medical receptionist, conference and event planner and administrative assistant. What I did, for nearly a year, was research the most popular employment wanted job classifications online and in major newspapers.
Then, following that, I would research what skills and knowledge were needed for each category. Once all that was done, I developed course outlines and programs for the college. Meaning, that when they got a binder with a completed program, they knew it would mean that graduates of that program would likely find a job.
However, that is not where the preparation stopped. Once the company received the program I developed, it went to the Ontario ministry involved, for final approval. Which means, that the provincial government actually has the final word. So, if there are student loan defaults in private career colleges, keep in mind that the government allowed the program involved to go forward.
No job guarantees
Then, there is the issue that no matter how careful preliminary research is done, by yourself, the institution or the government involved, there are no guarantees. Job popularity, as in what employers are looking for, can change in as little as a few months. But, in the example I provided, it was the best the private franchisor could do — something that few private colleges probably do — paying an expert to match jobs to programs.
Do job research, it’s the least you can do
So, to anyone who is considering post-secondary education, whether it is private or public, do your homework. Don’t depend on someone else to have done it for you. Read the classified ads in newspapers. Check the various job sites online. Then, when you have a rough idea of what is needed out there, match its skills and expectations to a program somewhere.
And, this is especially true of private career colleges. They are businesses and provide a service just like any other business. They are not running the business solely for altruistic reasons. They have staff to pay, rent and all the other overhead one can expect. And, yes, it is perfectly understandable that the boss would want to turn a profit, as in make a living.
In other words, when you hear “Oh, yes, there are lots of jobs in this or that field,” don’t simply take someone’s word for it. Do your own research. Also, remember that some colleges have better reputations than others. Check out what the student loan default rates are in the program area you are interested in. Truly, the buck stops with you.
Here are two important links, one a Globe and Mail expose (h/t Jack’s Newswatch) related to the student loan default rate at private colleges and how much they are costing taxpayers as a result, as well as the top ten private college defaulters.