September 27, 2016
Squeeze lemons before buying them
If you pay attention to the news, you probably have heard about the closure earlier this month of ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit college chain with more than 130 campuses in 38 states and some 40,000 students now left out in the cold. The closure came after the federal government barred ITT from enrolling any more students who receive federal aid. This shut down a major source of revenue for the school.
The feds charge ITT with misleading students about the quality of their education and employment opportunities, and using high-pressure sales tactics encouraging them to take out costly student loans. Various lawsuits from disgruntled students preceded the government’s action.
I’m in no position to judge how valid the accusations may be against ITT, although where there’s that much smoke there’s usually an underlying fire. In any case, my empathy rests with the 40,000 students affected by this decision. Many of them paid high prices to take courses whose credits may not be transferable to reputable schools, and they are stuck owing money for loans taken out to pay for those classes. Perhaps some of you reading this are among those unfortunate former students.
Where do you go from here?
If you are determined to continue with the same studies you pursued at ITT, I wish you good luck and hope you will succeed in finding a reputable program that will accept the credits earned at ITT. If you took out loans to pay for worthless classes, then I hope you will find a way to get those loans forgiven.
If you are disheartened with the entire experience and wish to go in another career direction, then I urge you to take a close look at the opportunities presented by the skilled trades, especially the high-paying occupations in plumbing, HVAC and electrical work. But before you plow ahead in that direction, learn some lessons from the ITT fiasco.
Just as many people squeeze produce before spending money to buy it, do some research before selecting a vocational school, apprenticeship program or company to work for.
Talk to former students and ask them if the experience is worthwhile. Talk to trade employers and ask if they recruit from the prospective school and their opinion of its quality.
Beware of high-pressure sales tactics. Reputable vocational schools will be selective about who they enroll because they don’t want to turn out graduates that can’t do the work employers expect.
Company-run training programs are often a good option because they typically pay you while you learn, and they are not likely to invest in training people they don’t think have what it takes to succeed. Just make sure their training produces skills that you can take with you if you should leave their employment for any reason. Some of these programs require trainees to sign agreements to pay back the cost of their training if they leave employment before a certain time period. Nothing wrong with this, just be sure you can live with the terms.
The bottom line is that vocational education usually costs far less than college, and you get bigger bang for your bucks in many cases. Do some soul-searching before you decide on your career choice.