An August 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that a certificate program in computer-aided drafting would cost $13,495 at a for-profit school, compared to $520 at one community college. It also found a certificate in Web page design could cost as much as $21,250 at a for-profit, compared to as little as $2,037 at one public school.
How to increase the odds for success with a for-profit school In response to such reports, for-profit schools have posted online tools to help students estimate their costs and taken other steps to assure ethical practices. Kaplan University, for example, puts students through a detailed introductory process before they incur any charges. The government has also proposed a "gainful employment" rule limiting students' access to federal loans if previous graduates of their programs fail to meet benchmarks for repaying their loans, or for limiting their loan debt to a certain percentage of their income.
To increase the chances of a worthwhile education, students (and their employers) should choose only schools that have the most prestigious levels of accreditation, meaning they are members of the nation's six top regional accrediting agencies rather than from national, industry-based, and lesser regional agencies. The top regional accreditation agencies are the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Accreditation from these agencies means the school has met the highest educational standards, and credits earned from it can be transferred to most other schools.
Of the major for-profit colleges, Capella, DeVry, Kaplan, University of Phoenix, and Walden are accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. ITT Tech is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a less prestigious national agency that mostly accredits smaller schools providing primarily job-related training.
Education Sector's Miller warns of expensive courses in "aspirational" fields such as computer animation, special effects, and graphic design for which there are few jobs. Chip White, co-founder of DegreeInfo.com, a website for those interested in online education, says that trade and technical schools, which cater to those looking for lesser-skilled jobs such as basic computer repair, "are some of the worst offenders" in overcharging students for the jobs they're being prepared for.