In the conversations around the student debt crisis, we often lump for profit schools in one box, however to say there are equivalent is untrue and avoided addressing the nuances and obvious flaws in this analysis. I went to a for profit massage school, it was a small family owned operation, my degree was affordable and my education allowed me to pass state and nation tests; granted me a massage license that lead to an expected carrier and taught me the skilled I needed to do that work. There where both private and public programs that charged more with varying success rates, however overall I got what I paid for as did most of my peers, many of whom are still working in massage 10 years later, a rarity in that profession. This program was no better or worse based off it’s for profit status, and one could even argue that achieving a non-profit status would increase there costs and therefore students tuition.
Recently a friend contacted me about an associates program that she was hopeful would be a stepping stone to a psychology degree. This “ associates in herbal studies” sounded odd to me, so I proceed to investigate the program both on there website and also by speaking with there admissions. I was appalled by the cost, career potential and transferability of this program and the long term effects of my friend dedicates 2 years and thousands of dollars to it.
$17856-19656 is there estimated tuition cost for the program. Compare that to the $87 a credit for a public associate's degree, costing 3,533 for the required 63 credits , with included fees and even if one requires remedial or repeat credits it would be hard to bring this close to 17,000.
This program said they were primarily focused on job training rather than being a starting point for a bachelors and beyond. There website says that “ entraperniship “ is a focus of this program , which makes sense, this is hardly a degree that makes one more marketable for any job. However any career one chooses to pursue with this degree would require an additional training. One could not prescribe herbs without a naturopathic degree, one could not offer therapy without a masters, without additional massage licensure one can not use the bodywork elements of this education. Essentially one is paying 20,000 to enter an over saturated market of holistic life coaches.
If one wants to use this degree to move forward in a new career, they can’t. The credits do not transfer and the degree is not recognized outside this school. When I called to ask they never stated the credits would transfer, however they implied they may. That a University would look at each class and potentially award transfer credit for equivalent courses, however none of the courses they offer are equivalent to a university course, this is deception by omission, and was enough to fool my friend into believing this was a logical step to a degree she wished to obtain.
My concern is not that this program exists it’s that they are able to use Pell grants and accept federal student loans for a program unlikely to lead to a job and with credits that will not be useful outside of this school and this degree. This type of dead end program that leaves it’s participants with high levels of debt is an underdress issue is the ongoing conversation around student debt, while we shame students for choosing a better university or not working themselves to the bone during their undergraduate program we fail to address predatory programs such as these, often praying on the most vulnerable and unlike a bachelors program this type of degree is not one that is shown to increase one's lifetime earning potential,or provide the varied knowable base gained by a bachelors and unlike many job focused programs it fails to lead to a sustainable career.
In evaluating programs for oneself or in deciding what programs should be able to offer federal loans and grants, questions must go beyond the for profit/ non-profit question or even into success and default rates and into a more holistic assessment of the degree along with the opportunities it opens for its graduates.