To The Herald-Whig:
Every day, Illinois students are bombarded with advertising from for-profit colleges on social media, the internet and television. These advertisements promise fast enrollment, easily accessible financial aid and flexible course schedules. They often claim that their graduates go on to high-paying jobs and successful futures.
But for too many students, signing up at a for-profit college leads to a much different reality. Students who attend for-profit schools are all too often left with a degree or certificate that employers do not recognize, credits that do not transfer to other institutions and almost twice the amount of average debt of their fellow students who attended public institutions like community colleges. It's why for-profit colleges, which enroll only 9 percent of postsecondary students, collect 17 percent of all federal aid to education and are responsible for 35 percent of all federal student loan defaults.
The last several years, we've seen a reckoning. Fraudulent companies like Corinthian Colleges -- owner of Everest, ITT Tech and Westwood -- have collapsed under the weight of their own wrongdoing. Other companies are selling or closing campuses. We've seen this in Quincy with the announcement that Vatterott College will close before the end of the year.
How do we ensure students and their families don't continue to fall into the for-profit college trap? A survey by Public Agenda found that 75 percent of for-profit college students didn't even consider public or not-for-profit colleges before enrolling in a for-profit school. That's why for the past four years, I've worked with Illinois high school principals, counselors and teachers to warn college-bound students and their families about the risks of enrolling in a for-profit college. Thankfully, Quincy has an outstanding community college -- John Wood Community College -- which offers similar programs as many for-profit schools, at a fraction of the cost, and credits that will transfer to other legitimate schools.
For an Illinois student, getting the right information from the right person about their college options can mean the difference between a successful future and a worthless diploma with a lifetime of debt.