Buyer beware re private career colleges

This article was first published on July 14, 2009. Since it is once again the time of year when those high school graduates (who have not already applied to public post-secondary institutions) start thinking about what to do after graduation, here is a “buyer beware” alert about private career colleges.  

No matter where you live in Canada or the United States, if you are thinking about attending a private career college, always keep in mind that it’s like any other business investment.  You don’t depend on the government. You do your own research. In other words, it’s buyer beware! 

Private career colleges are businesses

Meaning that unlike publicly funded colleges, which are not-for-profit government regulated organizations, private career schools are private businesses, with owners who want to make a profit. As such, when they experience financial difficulties, they either shut down willingly, are forced to shut down, or they go bankrupt — often leaving students hung out to dry. 

However, it should also be said, that owners of private colleges create jobs and contribute to the economic well being of their communities. And, when things are done right, a private career college can be a win/win for everyone involved. For example, I did some course development work for the head office of a very large private career college group a number of years ago, an organization that tried very hard to provide the kind of programs that were needed. So, let’s not forget that there are hundreds, if not thousands of reputable private career colleges in our cities and towns.

Ontario Ombudsman Report on Bestech

That said, given the previously released report by Ontario Ombudsman, Andre Marin on the closure of “Bestech Academy,” there are some situations that turn out very badly for all concerned. Mr. Marin refers to the Bestech case as an unmitigated disaster “that points to a much wider problem with the province’s policing of private training operators” and the need for the Ontario government to “tighten regulations.” 

However, therein lies the essential problem. Bestech was unregulated and NOT under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Private Career College Act, 2005. So, the Ontario government could not have done much more than they did. They shut it down.

Normally, to be declared an exception under Ontario law and allowed to be “unregulated,” the courses offered have to be about job-skills specific training such as learning how to be a professional dealer for a casino.  Clearly, Bestech was not in that “exception” category.

But, had it been regulated, it would have been a different story with a very different ending. To see what I mean, follow this link and then scroll down the page to Part VII and read subsections 38 and 39 in particular. While not policing per se, the legislation certainly does have teeth.

Some helpful tips

Anyway, if anyone reading this lives in Ontario and is considering attending a private career college, here are some government links which might prove helpful. 

  1. Thinking about a private career college.
  2. Registering a private college in Ontario. 
  3. Registration Exemptions under the Act.
  4. Graduation default rates for private colleges in Ontario for 2006. (Note: default data is always a few years behind). 
  5. Graduation default rates for public colleges & universities (for comparison purposes).
  6. The Ontario government search engine to check out whether a career college is regulated and a program approved.

Regarding items (4) and (5) above, you need to read between the lines because the annual student loan default rate reports can show trends. For example, if a high percentage of students default on their student loans in one particular program or one specific college, it could mean some students either didn’t graduate from their program or they didn’t pay off their loans because they didn’t get jobs in their chosen field.

Buyer beware caution applies

In any event, I wrote this article to point out that unlike publicly funded institutions, where students are students, at private career colleges, students are also customers. Meaning, that the buyer beware caution applies.

6 thoughts on “Buyer beware re private career colleges

  1. Another thing a person considering a private college should do is talk to the employers you’d most like to work for,and ask them what they think of the school. A young fellow I worked with spent $18,000 on a private tech school that was supposed to prepare him for the sound recording industry. They advertised heavily in the media. After he graduated,he found that broadcasting companies and recording studios would hire only from the government funded tech schools such as BCIT,and he never did find a job in that field.

    Same as the colleges that turn out LPN’s,some of the private schools have a poor reputation in the health care industry,and graduates will find they have to take the lowest paying jobs,if any.

    Yes,of course there are good private schools,some have been in business for many years, but there are quite a few out there that are concerned only about the bottom line,and they’ll accept almost anyone who has the tuition,regardless of their qualifications.Employers are fully aware of this. I think a good rule is to find out how long they’ve been in business,and if they’re very new,avoid them,unless they have a sterling reputation in the industry.

    Again, before you give a huge wad of cash to a private college, apply to the government funded schools to find out if you have the right qualifications,because if you are lacking in some courses and they won’t accept you, why would the other schools? If they will accept you, go to step two and talk to employers,be very frank,ask them right out if they will hire a graduate of the college you’re interested in. If you get a negative answer or they hedge, ask them why. Don’t take it for granted that the school is respected in the industry,it may or may not be.

    Try to NOT pay your full tuition at the start if they’ll allow it,some schools here will allow you to pay half at the beginning and half at mid term. Talk to graduates of the school if you can find any. Ask the school where they have placed some graduates,then go there and ask to speak to them. My daughter eliminated one private college in her search by doing this before she registered for classes,turned out they did NOT have a good reputation. She waited another year,and got into the government funded school and now has a good career.

    Treat it like a job search,because you are risking a lot of money and a couple of years of your time,possibly for no gain at all.

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  2. dmorris — all excellent advice. Connects also to another recent post I didn recently on doing job research before applying to college and university.

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  3. Good topic Sandy and nice info you provided. I have some good information for you having person experience with this topic. Many years ago I graduated from a private college and that turned into a good job for a decade, after than I went onto to obtain my degree. The college I went to had strong ties to employers and a good reputation combined with a unique program that employers coveted. Mind you at that time there was a lot less of these schools around and most of them were reputable. Today it is a mine field out there and you really have to do your research or you are may be ripped off. If I may make a suggestion to you: how about you start up a website to help with this issue? It may be successful or at least will be informative.

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  4. Real Conservative — I have a feeling you were referring to Devry — which is now actually a private university affiliated with public institutions. Anyway, it just proves that some private colleges are not only good, they are exceptional.

    Re a website listing and ranking private colleges, that is not something I am up to at the moment. I now just have this site and that is enough. But, I agree a site where colleges were listed and students or ex-students could comment, much like we can for doctors, would be helpful.

    However, the concern I would have with a site like that, over and above the workload, would be the risk for lawsuits.

    When I started blogging four and half years ago, things were much more relaxed than they are now.

    But always appreciate ideas and looking at new possibilities.

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  5. Sandy, you are close, same industry different school I knew of DeVry and in those days it was a good school. Nowadays, DeVry is not as recognized unless you obtain a degree through them. Regarding a website, there is a way to do it and avoid lawsuits, but in general it is one thing you must always consider when you maintain a website as many conservatives know.

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