The federal government’s decision to increase sanctions on ITT Technical Institute reinforced how choosing the right college can affect a student’s current and future prospects. In the aftermath of the Department of Education’s decision to bar ITT Tech enrolling new students utilizing federal aid, the institute decided to close all campuses and discontinue educational services leaving tens of thousands of students in limbo.
Now former ITT Tech students who have not completed their degree are faced with a tough decision:
• Attempt to find an institution that will transfer their credits.
• Petition for their federal loans to be discharged.
Both choices are not ideal.
Here’s the thing: it’s easier than ever to vet colleges. The internet has made school stats, credentials, and various other factors about the institution easy to discover. College education is too important, time consuming, and expensive to be a blind gamble. And the rise of public college online programs, has eliminated the need to enroll in a risky program due to geographic limits. With a little detective work, you can save yourself a lot of trouble.
Below are four factors to keep in mind when vetting a school:
Not all student dropouts are the fault of the college, but higher than average drop out rates can be a sign of fundamental flaws in the school’s education or student support efforts. Individuals should not walk into a college program without knowing what percentage of students leave the college without a degree.
While it’s a gamble to attend a college with low graduation, at least you know what you’re up against. You can take measures to ensure you don’t leave the program with student loans and no degree.
You can get a sense of college graduation rates utilizing either the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard website or by doing a Google search of the schools graduation rate.
Check accreditation. According to an interview with Dr. RuthAnn Althaus, Ohio University Online MHA program coordinator, accreditation “provides assurance to students, their employers, and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) that institutions are meeting rigorous educational standards and are professionally sound.”
Enrolling in a program that is not accredited or has had their accreditation revoked for not meeting standards can have the following consequences:
• College’s ineligibility for federal funds (including federal student aid or tuition reimbursement programs.
• Inability to transfer college credits to other institutions.
• Not accepted as a degree by employers.
• Doesn’t grant entry into careers that require a degree (like nursing or engineering).
You can find accreditation info on the college’s website or utilizing this government database.
You also want to check if the college’s accreditation is in trouble. If a school fails to meet accreditation standards, it will be placed on probation. If the problems are not fixed, they might lose their accreditation.
You can check if a school is on probation by:
• Searching Google for a “Notice of Probation” for the school
• Searching for any articles about the potential loss of accreditation.
Switching schools can be a nightmare. The Department of Education analysis of college credit transfer rate revealed that around 40% of college students lost all of their earned credits when they transferred schools.
Students who start at one college and plan to transfer to another school should:
• Figure out if the college has a transfer agreement with any other universities. If they do, ask the college what you need to do to sign onto the transfer agreement.
• If you have a transfer college in mind, check the college website for a list of schools they have a partnership with. (Portland State University’s community college partnership page is a good example of what that page would look like.)
• Call the admissions office or transfer advisors at the school before you sign up for classes to sure your credits will transfer.
• Shop around to other colleges if your first choice won’t accept your credits.
• Check if the college is regionally accredited (most public universities) or nationally accredited (a lot of for-profits). Most regionally accredited universities won’t accept credits from nationally accredited programs.
Students who don’t plan to transfer schools, should still get a general sense of whether the credits will be transferable to a school you would reasonably want to attend just in case.
If you’re in enrolled in a school that is in financial hot water, you’re placing yourself in a precarious position.
Schools that are not stable financially face:
• The potential to lose accreditation due to not meeting financial standards.
• A loss of quality offerings to students.
• Hikes in tuition in an effort to remain afloat.
• Possible school closure.
The last point, school closure, can be devastating to students if the closure happens in the middle of the semester. Their transcripts will be marred by a semester worth of ‘incomplete’ classes which looks bad and might prevent student athletes from participating in sports.
You can check the financial health of your potential university by searching for the financial information in Google or checking for the school in one of the following articles:
• Private College Financial Health Grades 2015: Is Your Alma Mater At Risk?
• 159 Private Colleges Fail Education Dept.’s Financial-Responsibility Test
The fall of ITT Technical Institute should be a wake-up call that individuals need to expand how potential schools are evaluated before enrolling. The ads, recruiters, and website might market the school as a stellar institution, but colleges are businesses who are reliant on recruiting students to remain lucrative. It’s the individual’s responsibility to do a thorough vetting before enrolling.
This article was contributed by guest author Samantha Stauf.