Friday, January 15, 2010

Choosing a College

I recently read that unemployment is around 20% for people without a high school diploma, and 10% for people who got through high school. Do you know what it is for college graduates? 5%. So smart people everywhere are starting to realize they need more education. That’s fantastic. Unfortunately, not all schools are created equal. Actually, schools range from amazing to fraudulent. Today’s Daily Skinny is about recognizing a bad school, so you can stay away. I should point out that these opinions are based on my own research, and may not paint the whole picture. Don’t make a decision about what school to attend without consulting many people.

We have good reason to be skeptical regarding small colleges that almost no one has heard of. Any idiot can start their own school. I know, because I’ve started doing it. My co-conspirator and Daily Skinny supporter Rosita Belladonkenstein and I have formed The Franklin Institute of Advanced Study. It’s an incredible place to learn! Naturally, our motto is “We put the “G” in Higher Education”. Sign up now! We are accredited by the NPCDR! The N stands for “National” so you know our college is tops! For $30 bucks, I can own the domain and for another $1000 I found a guy who will build a website (including student testimonials) that looks just like a real university! The school colors are puce and vermillion. The best part is that I know a guy who will print “real” diplomas for any discipline. We’re talking gold embossed seals and all the diploma bells and whistles. For $400-$500 he can print a diploma package that includes transcripts, grades, and letters of recommendation that will be indistinguishable from the real thing. Since I don’t want to be responsible for illegal activities, I won’t share his ordering website address (in his defense, his wares are technically “novelty” items). If you think this doesn’t happen frequently, just Google “doctor of homeopathy” and you’ll get 1.7 million examples of made-up degrees from made-up schools accredited by made-up institutions.

As usual, I like to choose one entity to represent problems so that we can simplify our discussion. To keep things easy, let’s discuss an actual school and not someplace offering degrees in telepathy or unicorn magic. When I lived in the ATL (Atlanta if you didn’t know) there was a school that did a lot of advertising for “Fast, easy, accredited private college”. The school was Brown Mackie College. Basically, they accept everyone so getting in is no problem. They let you pay monthly, so if paying for school is your problem, they believe they have the answer. According to their website, they offer “Flexible course schedules, Day and evening classes, Small classes with personalized attention, "One-course-a-month" delivery option”.

The location in Georgia is the one I know, but the closest facility to me now is the one in Idaho. So I tried to focus my research on these locations.

What is Accreditation and Who Cares?
Even a caveman knows to ask if a school is accredited. Scam schools know this and will make up their own accrediting company with fancy sounding names (Like my NPCDR). That’s why you need to verify their accreditation. Accreditation is the way a school certifies that they do a good job educating people. Accreditation means that an agency over a region or occupation thinks they pass basic standards that they think decent schools should have. If a school is legit, they should tell you who has accredited them. Accreditation is voluntary, so stay away from schools that say accreditation doesn't matter. They are probably running a long con, and you may wake up in a tub of ice with a pain in your side (Barry Manilow in the background) if you enroll in the school.

There are two kind of accreditations: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditation means the overall school passed their minimum standards. Specialized accreditation is really important because the accrediting agencies establish standards for specific fields of study, like nursing, engineering, etc. to make sure that the school is providing education that can meet the requirements of employers, licensing boards, etc.

The BMC website proudly states: “Each Brown Mackie College location is licensed by the state in which it is located, and is authorized to confer associate's degrees and/or diplomas and certificates.” With a little help from Google, I checked on their accreditation status. It’s true! They really are an accredited school! Their accreditation is good through 2011. Here’s the problem. Read what they are accredited to do from the ACICS website: “Certificates or diplomas, and … associate, bachelor's, or master's degrees in programs designed to educate students for professional, technical, or occupational careers, including those that offer those programs via distance education.” That sounds okay, right? The problem is that (according to the ACICS) they are NOT accredited for any specialized programs. So if you were to get a degree in Engineering, Law, Accounting or another field that requires professional testing… you may have a hard time getting people to accept your degree and let you get licensed.

Also, they are nationally accredited and NOT regionally accredited. So if you transfer to a regionally accredited school, they will almost certainly not accept your credits. In other words, if you finish your degree, some employers and states may not see it as valid and if you don’t finish your degree you may not be able to transfer the credits you took.

The Teaching Staff
The BMC website says, “[Our] standards [for professors] include earned degrees and/or significant professional experience. Many of the school's instructors are or have been practicing professionals in the areas they teach.” Allow me to translate their statement: “We know our teaching staff is excellent because some of them have degrees. The rest just learned a lot from their jobs. Some of our professors have actually used their professional knowledge in a work environment. The rest of them are right out of school and have never worked in the type of jobs you will want after you graduate.” Also, notice they there is HUGE lack of bragging about the accomplishments and credentials of their professors. All the school websites I have seen have this.

Make sure you shop around for colleges. Numerous students of BMC complained of hidden fees and high costs. Students paid an average of $1,400 per month. (An average of 6 people at multiple locations). To put this in perspective, I attended a University that is ranked 55th in the WORLD (for my field) and I paid less than that.

Here is what some students and employees of Brown Mackie College said:
1. Some of the instructors are rude, conceited, and treat each student as a dollar sign.

2. Allegations of competitions between admissions counselors to see who can get the most students enrolled. The winner apparently gets a free paid vacation. Some students said this lead to “less than honest” information from the admissions people.

3. When a few students complained about being mislead, they claim the school filed charges against them claiming academic integrity violations to shut them up.

4. One complaint of high professor turnover with some professors leaving mid class.

5. One employee said there was significant sexual harassment of students by multiple BMC employees.

6. One Employee said BMC forced them to hide things from state and government agency's as well as accrediting bodies.

7. 9 Complaints of being told their credits would transfer, and finding out it wasn’t true

8. I found 4 people starting class action law suits against BMC for various kinds of fraud or negligence. (On the other hand, I looked up their Better Business Bureau record, and it was pretty clean.)
a. Pam Fennelly sued them for fraud and misrepresentation; the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
b. In 1992, 35 Students filed complaints as part of a lawsuit, and withdrew from the school
i. Under allegations of misconduct, legal counsel told them not to pay their tuition. MBC sued counter sued them and lost.
c. Here’s one of the cases if you want to look it up. United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit. - 981 F.2d 1149

9. People reported problems finding jobs, because employers don’t view their degrees very highly.
a. One person who got their degree in accounting from BMC was unable to find a job. That says a lot, because accounting is one of the fastest growing areas in business.
b. One person finished their degree went to sit for some board exams, and was denied because the state did not recognize their accreditation.

10. Three allegations of financial aid fraud.

11. Three allegations of NACAC admission violations.

12. One Employee said some teachers accepted bribes for grades.

13. One Department Chair at BMC filed an EEOC complaint against the campus, recommending legal action.

14. One student commented that they didn't feel safe. They said, “The student population consisted of ex-convicts, there was cussing in the hallways, cussing in the classrooms... I even walked out and saw a group of professors arguing with each other…”
Other tips for choosing a school
1. Look for a school with a good reputation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small school, if they do a good job. Interview some alumni and find out what they think of the school. Write and ask for the results of the school's latest accreditation review. The agency can tell you if the school passed, and if they found problems.

2. A big school may get you better programs for your field. Sometimes the cost is worth it.

3. A small college will probably have smaller classes and more one-on-one time with professors.

4. Large universities tend to have a central advising office and at small colleges the advising is frequently handled by the professors. One is likely to be more professional, but the other may be more personal.

5. If your school prints tuition coupons in the Sunday comics, GET OUT NOW!

6. Find out the schools graduation rate. If it’s much less than 50%, be wary.
What’s the Skinny?
If you want to go to college, do your homework on the school first. Many people probably went to Brown Mackie College and were fine. But when you choose a small school like this, make sure you know the risks. Odds are good that you will pay less, learn more, and have a more respected degree if you stick to your local community college.

Remember that any idiot can start a college, or write a book. When someone claims to have a doctorate in something, ask them where they got it and what it is in. For all you know, “doctor” is their first name, or they have a PhD in nose picking.

So when someone makes a claim, verify their evidence. A little skeptical inquiry can prevent a lot of problems, except for in marriage. You should not always want evidence of stuff from your spouse. Apparently that comes across as calling your wife a liar, and Weather Principio doesn’t like that. What can I say? Once an investigator, always an investigator.


Danny said...

I think that schools like BMC may be fine for people who are looking to only continue learning.

But for people who want to work in a field like medicine,law, finance, management, or accounting they will have a rude awakening when they realize that they cannot sit for the certification exams or get into any graduate programs.

Schools like BMC seem to only prepare people for entry level type jobs with little advancement. For example, a person wanting to be an accountant would do much better going to a state university and preparing for the CPA exam. A person wanting to simply work in accounting would do fine at a school like BMC and would most likely find a staff accountant or bookkeeper job.

The choice of school ultimately comes down to the goals of the student and where they want to work after graduation.

Mark said...

Anonymous makes some good points, although I didn't agree with the
"biased" comments. The blog said at the beginning that one school was chosen to illustrate possible problems in choosing a college. Brown Mackie was selected, and so obviously the flaws were emphasized as an instructive tool. I don't think it matters whether a legal problem was 17 years ago. The point was to illustrate that you should do some dirt digging on the school involved.

I liked the post. It was hardly a disinterested academic piece, but for what it was, I thought it was good. As I saw it, the point was to highlight some possible problems with a college to illustrate the need to do your homework. I think it did that.

Anonymous said...

I was suggested this web site by my cousin. I'm not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem. You're
incredible! Thanks!

Also visit my weblog; jocuri cu printese

Anonymous said...

Great blog you have here.. It's difficult to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

Here is my web blog -

Anonymous said...

It is appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy.
I've read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read even more things about it!

My blog: bancuri cu injuraturi