Education Matters: Don’t Even Think About Going to a For-Profit College

These so-called schools are legal scams


The young woman stepped up to the microphone, eager to ask her question.

The BE Smart panel at this year’s Women of Power Summit in Hollywood, Florida, had just ended. We’d heard great speakers, like Pamela Mitchell of the Reinvention Institute, expound on the value of executive education and the difference executive credentials can make in a woman’s career.

Now it was time for questions from the audience. The young woman cleared her throat. “I worked hard for my degree,” she began, “but I went to a for-profit college. Now can’t get anyone to hire me.”

My heart sank upon hearing her words. No one on the panel had endorsed pursuing credentials from a for-profit; the young woman simply wondered if a legitimate credential on top of her for-profit degree could help her get hired.

For-profits Are a Disaster


There is so much information online about for-profit colleges—with names like Corinthian (now defunct), DeVry, ITT Tech, the University of Phoenix—and none of it is good. Still, it’s not unusual to hear some earnest person say that they are attending a for-profit school.

Yet, these schools are basically legal scams. For-profit schools are not an option, unless you are looking to go into debt, waste your time, lower your chances of graduating, or increase your chances of graduating with a degree that has little to no value in the labor market, as the unhappy young woman at the Women of Power Summit discovered and that studies have proven again and again.

For-profits exploit the ambition and honest aspirations of low-income people, who are often poorly educated. They prey on communities of color, on the poor, and on the poorly informed. They prey on veterans, even to the point of opening outposts of their institutions near military bases.

A Slate article quoted Mike DiGiacomo, a U.S. Army veteran now weighed down by nearly $90,000 in student loan debt after attending two for-profit schools, “These aren’t colleges. They’re debt factories. They’re the slumlords of the college world.”

What to Do Now


Spread the word and stop the madness. The ads you see in the subway and on TV are lies. No one should go to a for-profit school, and the U.S. Department of Education knows it.

If you’re already in debt, ask your loan servicers about income-driven repayment plans, which are woefully underutilized (only 12.5% of federal loan borrowers have signed up for them). Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to pay $0 and still keep your loan current.

But if you have been defrauded—that is, lied to and misled—by your institution, contact your state attorney general and explain your situation. Students who attended Corinthian College can apply to have their student loans discharged, since they had been defrauded by the for-profit behemoth. Push to have your loans discharged too.

Don’t trust any for-profit school, unless it can prove a track record of providing an honest education to real people who went on to enjoy a professional future with degrees that were respected. I’m sorry to say this, but you won’t find one.

  • Gabriel Flores

    I went to the fully-accredited
    for-profit University of Phoenix and I can honestly say I received an exemplary
    education and it was much better than any education at any not-for-profit state
    public universities I have attended. I learned amazing skills and consider
    myself a scholar who is published and notable in his field. Not all for-profit
    schools are “bad” and many schools are changing and adapting to the
    new rules, for the better! Oh, and let us not start a new form of
    discrimination where we discriminate against for-profit graduates. These are
    some of the hardest working Americans I know! Finally, nobody should ever
    undermine anyone’s education. I love the University of Phoenix and so do its
    1,000,000 alumni. Best education ever.

  • Gabriel Flores

    The University of Phoenix gave me an amazing
    education. I can honestly say I received an exemplary education and it was much
    better than any education at any not-for-profit state public universities I
    have attended. I learned amazing skills and consider myself a scholar who is
    published and notable in his field. The University of Phoenix’s curriculum was
    rigorous, meaningful, relevant, and applicable.

  • Gabriel Flores

    I understand how some of these schools might be hurting the system. But there
    are some good schools and many successful graduates too who are now going to be discriminated against because of your nonsense.

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  • DuWayne Moore

    While I do not disagree with some of the issues raised because of for-profit schools, it is not a fair discussion to make such blanket statements. I was a student that attended the public college and university in my area. And it was a joke. I was an army vet well into my 20s with a full time job and family, and it would’ve taken 8 years to complete a bachelors degree at these institutions. Let’s not even mention the admissions process at the public schools, or the demanding schedules that only cater to full time students. My experience with the public school faculty was also terrible, tenured professors did not care about their students.

    So let’s flip this around now. I left the public schools because as a real adult I had to deal with real life. So I attended a University of Phoenix ground campus and the experience was amazing, working with teams on projects, faculty whom had real experience in their field (not teaching solely on theory or the textbook), and class schedules that fit into an adult’s life. And a more racially diverse student body, the public university was majority white. I finished a MBA with 0 debt, was hired immediately after for a position in my field. Multiple executives and senior managers in my company also graduated from these “evil for-profit schools”.

    So instead of making such generalizations of these institutions perhaps we should also ask the more difficult questions. Why don’t the ‘public’ institutions become more flexible with the adult students with schedules? Why don’t the ‘public’ schools increase their capacity to take in more minority and veteran students? Why don’t these schools place satellite offices closer to the area with more minority students? Why don’t Ivy League schools use their BILLIONS of dollars in endowments to reach out to these so-called ‘victims’ of for-profits?

    You make statements in your article that clearly point out your point of view, politics, and your background. My educational experience also included lessons about critical thinking, and I promise that was not part of the ‘public’ school curriculum. So let us carry on a healthy discussion, but do not attempt to make it solely about some people making money running for-profit schools, you will lose that debate.

    • Nathanael Sinclair

      My experience was similar. I wound up completing my general ed at a community college and finishing a Bachelors degree at Phoenix. Yes, I have some debt, but I also landed a couple scholarships and have received two promotions at work since completing my degree. I plan to go back to Phoenix for my MBA in the near future.

    • Ian Auge

      Very good post. I too went to UOP and finished up my undergraduate degree in about a year and a half, after attending multiple community colleges, in addition to four years of active duty in the Marine Corps.

      Not everyone will experience the same things at for profit colleges, and for the most part students can always be pushed further, but did UOP serve a purpose? Yes, they did. The sole fact that their curriculum is team based speaks volumes for application within any organization. (Many struggle with simple communication and working with others). I learned a great deal about myself, and even more about some of the things that truly matter to me from a business perspective. (Ethics, Communication, Leadership)

      FYI- no debt, and no one swindled me into anything. I would attend a for profit school any day. It is what you make it. That goes for faculty as well.

      Thanks for reading,

      Ian Auge

  • Nathanael Sinclair

    Sorry Robin, you’re way off-base. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, only about 56% of students (from ANY institution) earn a degree within six years. That’s a four-year degree in six years, and only 56% of ALL students from ALL colleges/universities get a four-year degree in six years. That’s a problem.

    The same study found that Business is still the most common major, a course of study offered at just about every for-profit college out there. Sure, some colleges are better than others, a fact that can be said about any higher education facility in the world.

    The same study found that it is increasingly difficult for recent grads of any institution to find full employment. “The share of underemployed recent grads … rose from about 15% in 1990 to more than 20% [in 2014]. About one-in-five (23%) underemployed recent grads were working part-time in 2011, up from 15% in 2000” (

    I feel sorry for the woman you mentioned at the beginning of your article; she is representative of millions of recent grads struggling to find work, but not because of where she went to school. A Gallup survey of more than 600 business leaders found that only 9% said that it was “very important” which institution the applicant attended. 54% said it is not important, and 37% said it was “somewhat important” ( In the end, what matters to employees is knowledge and experience, not college pedigree.

  • Gary Steede

    I personally am a University of Phoenix (UoP) Online student graduate who had earned both my Associate and my Bachelor Degrees through that organization. You see articles like this time after time after time trying devalue the hard work that students like me put in to earn my degree, which by the way I earned with honors maintaining a 3.91 GPA throughout the four years of my programs. I never once felt the material covered in my classes were not essential in the field of study I was pursuing, used the same text books that other institutions used, and to succeed had to put in the work to stay on top of this material. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge as both me and my wife were pursuing different degrees at one point through UoP the online setting is not for everyone, while I was able to keep up and understand the material of my classes my wife struggled and eventually ended her program after the first year. This proves in my eyes that the college is not just pushing people through handing out worthless degrees to just anyone. The real problem I see that makes it hard for those of us that have graduated form for-profit institutions like UoP is stories just like this one that does nothing but put down the hard work of those of us that successfully complete our programs, put the work in, and actually did learn something from our course selections. Many of us that struggle finding jobs in our fields of study, which I am not afraid to say it I have not found a position in my field of study as of yet, do so because of articles like this that devalue my hard work and make that work look worthless. Other factors also play a role in my lack of success in finding a position in my field of study, which include my lack of certifications that many positions require in the IT field in addition to the degree, and maybe the biggest factor of all that I do not want to relocate to an area that offers more opportunities. However, this in my eyes does not devalue the degree I have EARNED, and when I say earned I mean:

    > I put the work in

    >I wrote my own papers in my own words

    >I put the hours of online discussion adding value to those discussions and learning with those that contributed from each other through posts that added value

    > I spent hours reading my required weekly reading, all while working 60+ hours a week with many days seeing less than 4 hours of sleep

    So yes, I value my hard work, I value the degree I earned, I do not look badly at the UoP for allowing me the opportunity to earn that degree that I would not have had otherwise.

    What upsets me is articles like the one above that’s sole purpose is to devalue what I and many many others have accomplished, and because of these negative connotations causes many employers to look badly at the work of many successful degree holders.

    It is hard to shine when opportunities are few and far between, but it is through persistence in finding an opportunity that one day I will rise above and shine.

    And here is another couple of quotes for others that suffer from the negative impact that articles like the one above cause.

    “Shine with all you have. When someone tries to blow you out, just take their oxygen and burn brighter.”
    ― Katelyn S. Bolds

    “You can turn off the sun, but im still ganna shine!”
    ― Jason Mraz

  • This is completely lacking in depth or perspective or context. One person says they had it bad and that is it? No follow up? No possible other explanation. I worked at for profits and state schools for over a decade. This article does nothing to inform someone choosing college and does nothing to address the problems of higher education.

  • Gabriel Flores

    The University of Phoenix was amazing and I would go again, no regrets. Robin you need to change too. At this point you’re a bigot

  • William Hooper

    Did the author even read the the links she provided? The paper on why a degree from a for-profit institution had little to no value was about employer’s discrimination against for-profit institutions and not about the quality of the education. In fact the paper stated that “… employers see applicants with for-profit degrees as too highly qualified. Over-qualified applicants may not accept a job offer, or if they do accept they may leave shortly thereafter for a better opportunity.” The author of this article is just parroting this discrimination against for-profit institutions and has nothing of substance to offer to the debate. I am a University of Phoenix (UoP) Online student graduate with a MIS degree. In addition to my day job I also teach at a local community college.

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