As reported in our previous post,

Enrollment at for-profit colleges and trade schools has tripled in the last decade to about 1.8 million, or nearly 10 percent of the nation’s higher education students… This year, federal financing for financial aid is expected to total $145 billion.

Trade school fraud is becoming a major problem.  Far too many unemployed Americans trying to improve their lives by learning a new trade finish school with huge debt and no job prospects.

At Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff, we have represented hundreds of students defrauded by for-profit trade schools.  Our clients spent thousands of dollars on their educations and hours of study, only to be left with nothing more than a worthless certificate.  Don’t let this happen to you!  Do your research, read and pass on this list we have composed of specific actions you can take to ensure that you won’t fall prey to fraudulent trade schools.

Whenever dealing with a for-profit trade school, it is important to always remember that these schools are very different than any other school you may have attended in the past.  Unlike a public high school or college, the ultimate goal of these schools is not to provide you with a high quality education.  The number one goal of a profit trade school is just that: profit.  In fact, the president of the largest for-profit institution is paid nearly 25 times the compensation level of the president of Harvard.  Shareholders for these schools have made millions.

Beware of Enrollment Counselors

Most trade schools start the recruitment process by having “enrollment counselors” contact students either in person or on the phone.  These “counselors” will appear to be interested in your career and will provide you with information about the various programs the school offers.  During this process counselor will try to gain your trust and make you believe they are truly interested in helping you with your future.

HOWEVER, BEWARE!

“Counselors” at for profit trade schools are not really “counselors” who are interested in your well being.  In reality, they are salespeople whose primary goal in the enrollment process is to “close the deal.”  You may not realize this, but enrollment counselors are under immense pressure to “keep their numbers up” and are given enrollment quotas they are required to meet in order to keep their job.  As a result, many of these counselors will say anything to get you in the door and get your student loan money.  They do not care about you or your career, they only care about meeting their numbers and getting your money.

Common misrepresentations include:

  • Misrepresenting the prospects for obtaining employment following graduation;
  • Lying about the potential earnings you can make following graduation;
  • Lying about whether the program is accredited;
  • Misrepresenting just how “difficult” it is to get into their school in order to create the false impression that there is a huge demand for the school.

Never blindly accept anything an enrollment counselor tells you when you are looking at a trade school.  Always independently verify everything they tell you before making an enrollment decision.

Make Sure You Understand Whether Your School Has the Right Accreditation

Whether a trade school has the appropriate accreditation for the career you are seeking is often the source of much confusion for students trying to select a trade school.   The confusion arises because there are two types of accreditation: accreditation for the school as a whole, and accreditation for specific programs within the school.

For example, someone looking for a program in ultrasound technology may come across a trade school that is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (“WASC”).  WASC is a regional accrediting body that accredits schools as a whole.  It does not accredit specific programs within the school.  During the enrollment process, you may ask about accreditation and the enrollment counselor will repeatedly assure you that “our school is fully accredited.”

However the fact that a school is accredited as a whole is meaningless if the ultrasound program itself has not obtained the appropriate “program specific” accreditation.  Often times program specific accreditation is critical to obtaining employment following graduation and is a prerequisite to being able to sit for various board or certification exams.  For example, in the area of ultrasound technology, it is almost impossible to obtain employment or sit for the ultrasound board exams unless you graduate from a program that has been specifically accredited by an entity known as CAAHEP.  Accreditation of the school as a whole by WASC means nothing.

Therefore, before selecting a trade school you should:

  • Make sure you know what type of program specific accreditation is required for your career;
  • Independently verify that the school and its program is in fact accredited (don’t trust the enrollment counselors); and
  • Independently verify whether graduation from the trade school will allow you to sit for various board or certification exams that may be required to pursue your chosen career.

Additionally, if an enrollment counselor tells you that the program is not accredited yet but “it has applied for accreditation and should have it shortly,” beware.  There is no way for a school to guarantee that it will obtain accreditation for a specific program and often program specific accreditation is very difficult to receive.  Since the failure to obtain accreditation could mean the difference between having a career or not, you need to consider whether this is a risk worth taking.

Ask For Placement Rate Data In Writing

The most important reason to attend a trade school is to obtain employment after graduation.  Therefore, before quitting your job, going into debt, and expending huge amounts of energy on a program, make sure it is an investment worth making.  Virtually all schools keep track of their placement rates and should have this data available for you to review.  Also, insist that the data include the salary ranges for students who supposedly obtained employment.  Although counselors may tell you “don’t worry, you will get a job,” do not attend a school that refuses to give you their placement rate data in writing.

However, even with this placement rate data, proceed with caution.  Many schools have been accused of fudging placement rate data in order to boost their stats.  For example, if someone graduates from an ultrasound program and then later obtained a job as a receptionist at an ultrasound lab, many schools may consider that person “placed” in an ultrasound job.  Also, the school may consider a person “placed” even if that person was fired only a week after obtaining a job.

Ask for the School’s Student Loan Default Rate

One of the best ways to verify the accuracy of a school’s placement rate statistics is to look at the school’s students default rate.  Under Federal law, schools that qualify for Federally Insured student loans must have a 2 year default rate that is less than 25%.  What this means is that the percentage of graduates who have defaulted on their student loans within two years of graduation cannot exceed 24%.  Therefore, if a school a school is telling you they place 90% of their graduates in good jobs but their default rate is 20%, watch out.

You also may want to ask what percentage of the graduates included in the school’s default rate have deferred their loans.  Sometimes, the two year default rate does not tell the whole story since students are able to defer student loans for up to a year or more.  Students who defer their loan payments usually do so because they were unable to obtain employment after graduating.  However, these “deferrals” will show up in the school’s default rate statistics even though these students are not paying their loans.

Do Your Research And Be Realistic

Before attending a trade school, make sure you fully research your prospective career.  Make sure you completely understand the qualifications of the job you are looking for and whether the school you are attending will give you those qualifications.  For example, if you learn that 90% of employers in your chosen field require a bachelor’s degree and you do not have one, you may want to reconsider whether the trade school is right for you.  Remember, just because the trade school tells you there is a “huge demand” for employees in your field, make sure that the “huge demand” is for someone with your qualifications.

Also, go online and research what other people are saying about the trade school you are thinking of attending.  The Internet is a huge sounding board for people who are dissatisfied with trade schools and there are plenty of news groups and message boards where information can be obtained.

For more information, visit and friend our Facebook page to stay abreast of the latest information on trade school fraud.

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