Be Savvy Choosing Your College

Your GI Bill money is a hard-earned benefit. Investing it wisely will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Once you know what you want to study and why, you have to decide where you want to enroll. Many U.S. colleges are facing challenges because the college-age population is declining.

Falling demand means tightened budgets and aggressive recruiting. Covid-19 has exacerbated those challenges. In today’s market, if schools know you’re looking, they’ll market to you heavily. Take their words with a grain of salt.

The best way to avoid spending time and money on a degree or certificate with little or no marketplace value is to arm yourself with information. Make sure you understand some fundamentals, including the difference between the three types of colleges: Public, Private, and For-profit.

Research the leadership, reputation, and track record of the colleges you’re interested in attending. Here are some questions to help you make the best choice:

1.) What skills and interests do you have? Find a degree program that plays to your strengths.

2.) What do professionals in the field think or know about the school youre interested in? Contact some and ask.

2.) Will the school recognize your past coursework or training and/or accept your transferred credit?  Make comparisons.

3.) Is the school accredited? Accreditation refers to a third-party assessment that evaluates the quality standards of the program. You’ll need this information to make sure the degree or certificate you’re pursing will be accepted by the professional licensing boards, unions and/or associations you’ll eventually want to join. You should only consider colleges that hold one or more of the three recognized accreditation types: national, regional, and programmatic.

RELATED: School Accreditation: What You Need to Know

National accreditation usually applies to For-profit schools focused on vocational training. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission specifically endorses online colleges. Nonprofit Public and Private colleges usually hold regional accreditation. Programmatic accreditation extends only to specific degree or diploma paths offered at a given school.

You can use the US Department of Education’s College Navigator tool and the Council for Higher Education website to see which schools are accredited, and by whom. It’s important to check both lists.

4.) Could your credits from the college be transferred to another school if necessary? For-profit schools can close abruptly, and it’s possible a college of any type could decide to discontinue a program. Even if the school stays the same, your plans could change unexpectedly. Be proactive by making sure you that if you had to change schools, you could still pick up where you left off.

5.) Do you need remedial education to succeed in your chosen program?  If you need some basic prerequisites before you get into your major, could you choose to complete them at an inexpensive community college?

6.) How does the program measure up? Take a minute to run it through the GI Bill Comparison Tool

7.) Does the college have veterans resources? Choosing a college that offers hands-on, person-to-person, help navigating the system can be a big plus. Check to see if college you’re  considering has a Veterans Certifying Official.

Once you cover those bases you’ll also want to find out whether the schools you’re looking at are Public, Private, or For-profit. Here are the fundamental differences you’ll want to consider:

Public Colleges get most of their funding from state and local governments and are usually the least expensive option. They also receive some funding from  private donors. Most decisions about running the school are made by a board of directors.

Private Colleges are typically schools that are both Not-for-profit and tax-exempt. Their funding comes from a combination of private donations and tuition. As with public colleges, most decisions are made by a board of directors.  In recent times, a large number of private four-year colleges in the United States have fallen into high risk financially.  Every year a few of them get absorbed by larger schools, or close their doors. Make sure the one you’re looking at is in a stable position.

For-profit Colleges get the bulk of their income from federal loans, and they have to show a profit. Most decisions about running these schools are made by shareholders who won’t hesitate to raise tuition costs, or reduce the money they spend on students to keep the business afloat.

For-profit colleges tend to cater to non-traditional students, which may make practical sense in terms of flexibility, convenience, and vocational focus. Their instructors are often people working in the field, rather than career professors. Some For-profit Colleges are better than others.

If you’re considering a For-profit program, you should know about the 90/10 Loophole.

Under the federal rule, for-profit institutions are required to get at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal student aid. However, education benefits from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs count toward the 10 percent minimum requirement. As a result, there have been some For-profit schools that have engaged in predatory practices that took advantage of veterans for the sake of GI Bill dollars. There are now movements afoot to have that 90/10 loophole closed. In March of 2020 Maryland became the first state to close it. A group in Oregon is pushing for a similar change.

Here are some other things for you to consider when looking at a For-profit school:

Are their enrollment policies too lenient? Educational institutions are selective. Diploma mills welcome anyone who can scrape up the money to attend.

Are they trying to impress you with huge job placement numbers? Insist on getting more detail to make sure those graduates aren’t just “employed,” but actually working in the field they studied.

Do you know exactly what you’re signing up for?  Don’t let anyone tell you the loan application forms you’re filling out are just a formality.

Don’t wait until you’re enrolled in school to start doing your homework. A little homework on the front end will help ensure you have a better academic experience, a shorter path to success, and an easier transition into your chosen career.

 

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About the author

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Caroline Sposto is a writer, actor, and the founder of Savvy Civility, an educational company that specializes in civilian role play training. She has a passion for the arts, education, and small business.