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For-Profit Education Degrees: Good or Bad?

With the recent rise in unemployment there are more and more career colleges sprouting up. Young adults are looking for ways to bypass the steep costs of four year colleges. Displaced workers are finding it nearly impossible to snag a job in the industry they worked in for 20 plus years. As a result they are looking towards applied degrees as a hopeful “in” to a new industry. Just yesterday we discussed how trade schools can broaden your employment opportunities. Now let’s take a look at how beneficial these applied degrees can actually be.

Typically these programs require a one to two year commitment. Some familiar degree programs of this sort include: pharmacy technician, medical biller, medical assistant, massage therapist, paralegal, information technologist, etc. The negative that I have seen from too many recent graduates of career colleges is two-fold: entitlement and inexperience.

Some of the recent graduates that I have met often find a misguided sense of entitlement. Proud of their accomplishment- one they may never have imagined achieving previously- they talk of their degree as if it is the single gold star needed to nail the perfect job right out the gate. Unfortunately, having an applied degree without experience is the same as a four-year bachelor’s degree without experience or any education without experience. Experience is always key, and many graduates face the task of job seeking without it.

The other trend I’ve noticed is that many graduates of these programs have minimal working experience in the industry related to their new degree. Since most of the programs are designed to be brief, the intern or externship programs are often very brief as well. Sometimes they can even be as short as one month. A common example of a graduate’s resume would be one showing a few months at McDonalds, then maybe six months at Dollar Tree, virtually no work while they went to school, and then end up with one month experience in a medical office after two years of not working at all. This work experience is usually not in their desired field, either.

Many employers want to see direct experience, or at least job longevity somewhere. Unfortunately, it seems as though the people who choose to go back for an applied degree are doing so because their other attempts at jobs or career paths have failed. In most cases , the common factor of failure for them seems to be themselves- their attitude or presentation- and not the jobs or lack of education.

Besides which, with so many experienced people out of work, why would a client choose someone who has had so little exposure over a seasoned professional? Thus, if you’ve been a welder your entire life and just completed your paralegal degree, you’ve just as much experience as an 18 year old high-school graduate. Knowledge is power, yes; but it is not experience. Search for a program that bundles relevant certifications and as much hands-on and intern/extern experience into the schedule as possible.

The good I have seen is rare. Determined individuals who remain humble and maximize any potential within their internship/externship experiences do well. They recognize their lack of experience and are willing to sacrifice pay, scheduling, etc. for any chance to get their foot in the door. If an applied degree is something you’re considering, search for an accredited program. Ask to see records of their in-field placement ratings. In other words, ask what the percentage is of graduates that are placed in their fields of study. Then work your tush off. Keeping in mind that you will probably have lacking experience if the field is new to you- work for absolutely everything, and do everything you can to add to your skill-set and resume. Mentally challenge yourself to find ways to be more valuable than someone with experience and go for it. Good luck!

IMAGE: Courtesy of National American University

Jesika Moffitt

Jesika works as a Recruiter & Placement Manager for a staffing service. She has an M.A. in Corporate & Organizational Communication from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and hopes to teach someday soon.

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