For-profit tech colleges: Can IT pros and employers trust them?

Colleges such as University of Phoenix, DeVry, and Kaplan have come under fire for high costs, deceptive practices

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Regis professor Borrego says Walden University advisers also did a better job during his Management Information Systems doctoral program than advisers he's had at not-for-profits. He says Walden faculty provided constant feedback online, whereas at one state university his adviser failed to appear for their first session "and the second time, showed up 10 minutes late, for a 30-minute session."

Not all programs or classes deliver, of course. Peabody was "not impressed" with the University of Phoenix classes he took for his bachelor's degree in business and information systems management, saying they didn't provide enough hands-on programming experience. But he was happy enough to return for an MBA, which he found far more demanding and worthwhile.

Do for-profits set up students for IT jobs after they graduate?
Employment and job placement rates for graduates of not-for-profit schools are hard to come by, says Education Sector's Miller, "because there's no standard definition or calculation" for how to define, for example, a job related to a student's education. None of the schools interviewed would disclose their graduation or job placement rates.

Even graduation rates among for-profit and not-for-profit schools are difficult to compare, says Miller. For-profits overall, for example, boast a graduation rate in the high 60 percent range, compared to the low 20s for community colleges. However, many for-profit schools count as graduates those receiving a certificate or two-year associate degrees, while many more community college students transfer to four-year schools for a bachelor's degree, and thus don't count as graduates.

Some for-profit graduates are happy not only with their education but their careers. Chris Torres, a PC client administrator for a satellite imagery provider, was referred to ITT Tech by a fellow Marine while in the service, received his associate degree in computer network systems in June 2008, and is currently studying there for his bachelor's in information security systems. ITT career counselors found him a job with a firm doing PC troubleshooting for the military, which eventually led to his current position.

Sue Talley, associate dean for undergraduate studies at Capella University, says most of the school's students are already employed and are taking graduate programs. She says its graduates are in high demand because of the school's credentials. For example, Capella has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency as a center of excellence in information assurance and security and is a registered education provider for the Project Management Institute.

Few employers would comment on how they view degrees from for-profit versus not-for-profit schools. However, Ben Patz, president of Presidio Networked Solutions South, says a degree from a for-profit school "doesn't make the eyebrows go up" at the $1.3 billion professional and managed services engineering firm. What's more important, he says, is that an applicant "have a very hands-on grasp of the technology that we're dealing with" and a passion for learning. "It's a brutal field to stay on top of things," he says, so "you need to be constantly training."

Regardless of where they get their degree, says Patz, it helps if a student also possesses a certificate in a specific vendor's technology. "If they've done that, that shows a real interest. Those people get rated way higher on our list," he says, regardless of which school they attended.

Many students also like the "real world" experience they get from the part-time, still-in-the-field instructors that often staff for-profit colleges. "It gives you more information on what's going on in the real world, compared to going to a community college or university where the teacher is just in the classroom all day," says PC client admin Torres. "As technology changes, I would rather be taught by a teacher who knows exactly what is going on right now, rather than teaching me what happened a month ago or even years ago."

So if your local community college can't find space for you or you're spending half your life in airplanes -- or in Afghanistan -- a for-profit school could be the ticket to an IT degree or enhanced IT skills. Just choose carefully, and know you're likely to pay a lot more for that easy access.

This story, "For-profit tech colleges: Can IT pros and employers trust them?," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in IT careers at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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