On the Federal Financial Aid for Low-Income Students Hub, I talked a bit about scam schools.
The reason I refer to them as "scams" is because they often prey on people with low income - they do this because they understand how federal financial aid works.
They know that people with low income are eligible for more government aid money.
Basically, the less money you have, the more money you will receive in financial aid; they know this, and they use this knowledge to sucker people in to attending their schools.
Most of these schools are not scams in the traditional sense, meaning that they do offer an education. However, the education that you receive is substandard to what you would receive in a real school, or they make you get a degree in a discipline that only requires a diploma.
These schools are not all bad. If you are a working professional, who earns a high wage, maybe these schools might be OK for you, but they can spell financial disaster for people who are living from paycheck to paycheck.
What's even worse is the fact that employers know that the standards at these schools are lower than traditional schools, and they design their admissions exams so that anybody can pass, so they get millions of people to enroll.
Check out these comparisons of traditional schools and scam schools so you can understand the difference between the two:
How They Advertise
Most traditional schools rarely advertise on television. Why? because their number one goal is the true education of their students, no to make "sales."
This is not to say that real schools never advertise, they sometimes do, but you will not be "pitched a sale" when you call or visit. And, you will not see commercials for real schools on TV during every "Jerry Springer Show" commercial break.
One of the first indicators that you are attending a predatory school is the fact that they constantly blast the television and radio airways with commercials.
If I see that same girl one more time talking about how she was a "single mom, with no education...blah, blah, blah," I think my head will explode.
If you ever make the mistake of contacting them in any way, the first thing they will do before answering any of your questions is try to get all of your contact information - that is the first clue that you have reached a scam school.
They are trying to get your contact info, so that they can pitch the heck out of you if you decide not to fall for their "come in for an interview" trap.
Next, you are contacted by an "Admissions Representative" who is really nothing more than a sales person. They will try to "sell you" on the school.
THE SET UP - (The Campus Visit with an Admissions Rep)
During your contact with the "Admissions Rep," he/she will try to set you up for an "Interview" - this interview will be a full-on attempt at selling their school to you.
The interview can either be over the phone or in person. Usually, local scam schools will try to get an in-person interview with you, so that they can throw on the pressure.
If you ask them a direct question about tuition before the interview, they will very rarely give you a direct answer to your question, instead they will try to brush over your question, and tell you they will discuss it in the interview.
If you try to ask them anything about tuition, they will avoid the question like the plague. I have even had one of them tell me "If you're really serious about your education, the tuition won't matter." LOL! Really?
Most of them will not go that far, instead they will tell you that they do not discuss tuition and fees over the phone - which is utterly ridiculous.
During the actual interview, they will discuss tuition with you in a less than honest way (not giving you the full picture) and assure you that they have financing and financial aid to meet your financial needs.
Are They Accredited?
Sure they are accredited, but the question you need to ask, is "by which agency are you accredited?" They will more than likely tell you that they are "nationally accredited," but the truth of the matter is this:
Real schools are "Regionally Accredited" by one of the six regional accrediting bodies, they are as follows:
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Accreditation Commission
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
If the school you are considering is not accredited by one of these accrediting bodies, run as fast as you can, and do not look back!
Sometimes, these scam schools can gain entry into one of these accrediting bodies as well as a national accreditation. If this is the case then it means that the education they offer is decent, but their tuition is really high; in this case it really comes down to your personal choice.
The key is to look for schools that are ONLY ACCREDITED by one of the regional accrediting bodies listed above, then you can never go wrong.
Scam schools count on the myth that people who are poor are not familiar with educational norms. So, they create degree programs for careers that do not really require degrees.
It is true that it is good to get a college degree, but it is important to make sure that you spend your money on a real degree, and not a bunch of bunk.
Don't get me wrong now, I know that the key to ending the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle is through education...but, sometimes a person is simply looking to get into a good job quickly. After the decent paychecks start rolling in, then they can focus on getting a degree - but you need a REAL DEGREE, not some made up nonsense.
For example, I have seen AA Degree programs for Medical Assistants.
First of all, you do not need a degree to be a medical assistant. The reason they come up with these "degrees" is so that you can stay in school for a longer length of time than truly necessary....this way, they get more of your Financial Aid Money...
The higher your grade level in school, the more financial aid money you will be eligible for...
On the other side of the coin, the degree program might be valid, but you are still paying up to four times more for the degree than you ought to if you have low income.
I have heard that some scam schools charge nearly $2,000 per class - That is absolutely ridiculous! You can get a whole 2 year degree program at a community college for about three of their classes!
Scam School Admission Process
If you buy their cock and bull story and enroll in their school, the admissions exam is a total joke. I have seen many versions of this "exam," it is universal and a person would have to be blind and asleep to actually fail.
I say "fail," but I don't really mean it in the usual sense. Their admissions exams are not usually pass of fail type tests. Instead they ask you to answer questions that any clued in 8th grade could probably answer.
Also, you might notice that they do not ask for standardized college entry exams like the SAT or ACT, or academic placement exams that measure your readiness for English, Math and Science Courses (Asset, Accuplacer, Compass, etc), or TABE tests for vocational schools.
This is not to say that you are less than intelligent if you attend these schools, but it DOES SAY that they will let ANYBODY in, do not be fooled.
Once you enroll in classes, you will find that most of your courses either only focus on your chosen "career" or if you do have to take standard Math, Science, and English classes, etc., they are set up in modules and you share the work with other students - how can you fail?
This "class work-share" program model is particularly popular with online scam schools.
One of the biggest reasons people do not attend traditional schools/real schools/safe schools is because they think that the scam school process is easier.
If you try to get into a real school, you will have to take a full-on standardized entrance exam (Compass, Asset or something similar), or you will need sufficient standardized test scores (ACT Scores or SAT Scores).
If you do not have ACT Scores or SAT Scores, you will have to take their entrance exam, and if you do not score high enough on the entrance exam, you will be placed into college preparatory classes - this makes the entire school process take a bit longer.
But, so what? If you attend the real school in the first place, you will have the financial aid you need to get through the time it takes for you to complete school, and you will have a real degree that employers KNOW they can trust.
If you are serious about your education, you need to know that the traditional college/university system is set up for low income students to not have to work full-time and go to school at the same time.
If you plan well, you will be able to pay for school, rent, childcare (if necessary), and anything else you need to go to school. Plus, you will have money left over for whatever else you may need.
If you start at a scam school, you will notice that when disbursement comes around, you will have very little money left after your school is paid for - if anything at all.
If you feel like you absolutely have to/need to go to work and school at the same time, you should still make sure you have enough financial aid so that you do not have to work a full-time job while you are attending school
Either way, if you have low income, you should not allow a scam school to take your financial aid. If you are a low income student, please read my hub on Financial Aid Considerations for Low Income Students.
Good Luck to You!