Beware! For-Profit Colleges.

As a rural high school guidance counselor, I have been experiencing a steady increase in student and family inquiry about for-profit colleges (list of top 30 – And it is true! For-profit colleges seem to be the perfect answer to the post-secondary dilemmas of rural students. Or is it true?

Most colleges and universities that we deal with are instate nonprofit or public institutions, but for-profit colleges (really private business conglomerates) are trending upward and outward. Kaplan, DeVry, Capella, UTI (Universal Technical Institute), and ITT may be the best known around here.  So, what is the difference?


And what is the reason for the recent spike in popularity of for-profit colleges in rural areas? For one: There are very little admissions requirements – a diploma and a credit card – no essay, no standards. Very inviting for some, while watching other students write essays, take the SAT’s, collect teacher recommendations, and fill out lengthy applications.

Another important attraction for rural students are the online classes offered by for-profit colleges. Many of the students who inquire have full-time jobs and support themselves or contribute to their families. The allure of continuing their lives AND going to college is the answer to their dreams. Online classes are the mainstay of for-profit colleges.  But are they worth it?


At this point in the process, the student is made to feel special; they are marketed to the 10th degree.   But then, after the tuition refund deadline, the hard lesson hits. For-profit college investment in the student drops dramatically. In fact, for-profit colleges invest over twice as much of your tuition money on marketing new students than they spend on student services, professors and curriculum, or career services – you get the picture. Over 50% of students drop out each semester with a huge bill.



                                             Status of Students Enrolled in For-Profit
                                             Education Companies in 2008–9, as of 2010
Degree Level
Percent Withdrawn
Associate Degree
Bachelor’s Degree
All Students


Students are required to take many basic and foundation courses that carry no student interest and very little academic support. They say there is help for the struggling student, but it is not the type of help that students need. When students run into a snag, they are the only ones that can get them out.  They need to be dedicated.

Little told – navigating these courses is more difficult than doing the assignments. I know because I have taken a few from Capella and Phoenix. It can be very stressful if the technology isn’t working properly.


Now this is the final straw for me – the straw that broke the camel’s back. These for-profit colleges pull in over 25% of all federal funds like Pell Grants – $32 billion in the 2009-10 year. They also receive the largest share of the military educational benefits. For-profit colleges market to Pell recipients and Veterans just to rake in those coveted federal student funds – while they continue to dump huge loans on these same students who provided those federal funds.   And then they turn their backs on those same students when they struggle academically or cannot continue for personal reasons.
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Another thing I have discovered – rural students beware!! Many college search engines are paid by for-profit colleges to take you to them – not the colleges that may be a better fit!

So rural students – please –  BEWARE – enter the land of for-profit college with caution and fortified with knowledge. Make sure you are not one of those ripped-off statistics. Learn everything you can before you send a for-profit college that credit card number.


It’s Financial Aid Time Again!


It’s that most dreaded time of the year for high school seniors and their families; that time of the year when parents gather tax forms, students face the reality of cost of attendance, grandparents prepare to cosign loans. It’s time for the required financial forms – FAFSA, CSS Profile, and the hundreds of individual institutional forms; that time of the year when dreams are squelched, fortunes are lost, and families despair – it’s time for college financial aid.

When families hear “financial aid”, of course they immediately envision “help.” Aid = help! Right? Wrong! Aid = student and parent debt beyond imagination (at least for those that have never experienced having “money”) … debt that goes further than the worth of the family home… debt that creeps into grandparents’ savings and home mortgages… debt that is allowing the rich to succeed and the poor to give up.

And who is responsible for making sense of all this? For filling out all of these forms without missing deadlines? Who is responsible for explaining the horror of the financial aid package to unsuspecting families? Who is responsible for locating loans, grants, and scholarships? It seems like it should be the responsibility of the college, doesn’t it? Especially since they charge at least $50 just to apply and then, after accepted, bill the student usually over $20,000 a year. But no. It all falls to the already over-worked high school guidance counselor. The lowly guidance counselor must add all of the college application hogwash, all of the meaningless college admissions testing, and the mounds of financial aid confusion to her already overloaded job description – while colleges merely move on to collecting the money. College admissions have bullied their way into the high school guidance office leaving little room for high school affairs and concerns. For the enormous amount of time and the massive amount of work that high school counselors spend on college admissions – colleges should pay their salary. They can surely afford it after all those “aid” packages.


Maine’s Changing College Admissions’ Landscape

For Maine Students to Consider…


          It is quite surprising!  Myth after myth is being destroyed daily about college admissions.

          All our sacred beliefs and common faiths are being cut to the quick one after one.

For Example:

“Need-blind admissions” – now we find out – never was / never will be. Students who can pay are in one pile. Those who request financial aid are in another. It’s a business.

“Colleges that cover the financial gap” – do not exist, unless, of course, they really wanted you anyway. If not on that list and need aid – you just don’t get admitted. So no gap to cover.

“Colleges look at the whole student without any financial information” – could not be more false. A high percent of admits who can pay full price are always on the acceptance list – first choice.

“Your essay is important” – Most essays aren’t ever read unless it comes down to a choice between you and another student. Then it could be the deciding factor, but probably not.

“SAT’s are not used for admissions” – that is if you are lucky enough to keep them out of admissions’ hands. Most colleges see your scores, especially if you are using the common app, play a sport, signed on with NCAA, or are applying for a scholarship. Often, just saying that you do not want your scores to be a part of your admissions packet, can black ball you from the beginning.

“Colleges long for rural students” – only when they score higher than their urban counterparts. Lack of opportunities and experiences push rural students to the end of the line and their low-income seals the rejection letter.

Michelle Obama and Arne Duncan Call Together the Skills of the Guidance Counselor

Letter from Arne Duncan

Dear Chief State School Officer:

As educators across the country work to empower all students to meet the academic and career preparation demands of the 21st century, the role of school counselors has never been more important.  School counselors are often the vital link between students’ aspirations for the future and tangible opportunities for postsecondary success.  They are also particularly important for our neediest students, who require expert and accessible guidance as they navigate a challenging and complicated college admissions and career preparation landscape.  As State and local educational agencies (SEAs and LEAs) prepare for the start of the 2014–2015 school year, I want to call attention to the urgent need for highly effective school counselors and discuss the importance of amplifying the impact of school counselors on students’ academic success, social-emotional well-being, and college and career readiness.

If the nation is to meet President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, it is imperative that all students have consistent access to school counselors who possess the training and skills to help students reach their highest aspirations.  School counselors are pivotal in helping students manage their academic programs as well as the inevitable life events that may threaten students’ ability to succeed in school.  Yet, as the Civil Rights Data Collection recently found, one in five American high schools operates without any school counselors on staff (  This is an untenable situation for millions of students who need the support of site-based school counselors, whose job it is to ensure their students’ success.

Schools that do employ counselors may not use them to full advantage.  Despite the critical role school counselors play in supporting students’ college and career readiness, they often are asked to perform many “non-counseling” duties that can distract from their core work and ultimately leave students without the individualized attention they need to complete their academic course work, successfully navigate the college admissions and financial aid processes, and/or prepare for productive careers.  Increasing the number of students who graduate from high school ready for college and careers requires that all students benefit from a holistic support system that ensures consistent access to effective school counselors.

Schools and LEAs should support their school counselors by providing them with the time, space, and resources they need to work effectively on behalf of students, while also holding them accountable for measurably improving the college and career readiness of the students they serve.  Doing this well will require that SEAs and LEAs make wise investments in professional development for school counselors, create or provide data platforms that can enable school counselors to extend their impact and reach all students, and provide high-quality training for principals and teachers so they understand how to most appropriately utilize and build on the capacities of school counselors.

Additionally, schools and LEAs can further support student success by engaging school counselors in a leadership capacity to serve as trainers and providers of professional development designed to improve all educators’ understanding of the college awareness, admissions, and financial aid processes.  This strategy could help school counselors focus their energies on meeting students’ academic, social-emotional, and college- and career-readiness needs, especially those of the many first-generation college-bound students who are now graduating from our high schools.  A systemic and sustainable approach to supporting school counselors in meeting increased professional demands should include a consideration of how federal funds and programs can help improve and expand the reach of school counselors.  To that point, please find attached a list of federal initiatives and programs that may support the hiring, development, and retention of effective school counselors, including school counselor-led professional development activities.

Decades of professional experience confirm—and an emerging body of research indicates—that school counselors play a critical role in helping to ensure that our nation’s students graduate from high school ready for college and careers.  Without the support of school counselors, millions of students would neither graduate from high school nor fulfill the essential requirements of the college admissions and financial aid processes.  I urge SEAs and LEAs to use the summer months to strategize and develop policies and programs that enable school counselors to become more effective at helping greater numbers of students—especially low-income students, minority students, students with disabilities, and English learners—successfully access postsecondary education or career opportunities.

I am grateful to you and our nation’s school counselors, who strive to meet the varied and complex needs of students and their families.


Arne Duncan

College AdmissionsTrends to Watch in 2015

College Costs, Part 2  Spring always brings renewed concern that the price of college is too high, but college costs spend months in the 2014 headlines, as average student debt for a Bachelor’s degree surpassed $30,000 in many states.  Tuition increases have slowed, but not stopped entirely; state legislatures will take this issue on in earnest, since it isn’t an election year.
More Aid for International Students  Lower oil prices mean fewer full-pay families in oil-dependent countries overseas. Look for colleges to offer more aid to international students to advance their goals of campus diversity and full classes.
More Support for School Counselors 2014 brought praise for school counselors as never before, with the White House launching a multi-faceted initiative to get counselors better training in college admissions, and to get colleges to increase college access. After three college summits and Michelle Obama’s address to the American School Counselor Association, the center of action shifts to the states, where educators, policy makers, and foundations will combine their time and talents to move this agenda forward, whether or not it enjoys further attention in the national spotlight.
Resurgence in Technical Training  Increased college costs and the modest rise in unemployment for four-year college graduates are leading some states to wonder if the drive to send more students to four-year colleges is economically sound. Look for state officials to lead a resurgence in touting the benefits of vocational and technical training, news that could resurrect hurdles for low-income, first generation students to explore the full array of education opportunities after high school.
More Test-Optional Admissions Programs  The new SAT is scheduled to roll out in 2016, leaving colleges time to consider the importance of standardized testing in their admissions process.  The number of “test optional” colleges has increased every single time SAT or ACT changed their test—and this will be no exception.
More Innovative Admissions Methods  Goucher College shook the foundation of college admissions this fall when they announced students only needed to submit a 2-minute video to apply, and some colleges are considering questionnaires to determine if admitted students have the social skills and stamina to complete a degree.  This “no test, no transcript” approach is something to watch in 2015, as grade inflation and test prep courses lead more colleges to consider new ways to see if students will enroll and complete.
A Crossroads for Community Colleges New pressures are requiring colleges to consider how to help enrolled students finish a degree, including community colleges, where degree completion has traditionally only been one part of the definition of a completing student.  Will a community college student no longer be considered a success if they take the four classes they need to get a $10,000 raise at work—and if not, is that a good thing?  Stay tuned.
Fewer Students, More Applications  Birth rates show high school graduates will decline for at least 8 years, but there are more college applications going out than ever before.  This will continue next year…
More Parental Involvement in Applying …as will the increase in parents who want to help “edit” student essays and “organize” a student’s communications with colleges.  Any trend decreasing student ownership of the application process is a step in the wrong direction.  It isn’t likely, but let’s hope this practice slows.