Policymakers and higher education officials also have criticized the for-profit education industry for aggressive recruiting practices, particularly among veterans who are seeking to use their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to go to school.
In April, President Barack Obama signed an executive order cracking down on deceptive recruiting practices targeting student veterans, especially among for-profit colleges. The order cites examples of colleges recruiting veterans with serious brain injuries and emotional vulnerabilities without providing academic support and counseling.
The order lays out new requirements for colleges, including rules regarding disclosure of costs. The order also directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to trademark the term “G.I. Bill” to allow education officials to crack down on for-profit colleges that use the term deceptively in their recruiting materials.
Terry Britton, president of Rose State College in Midwest City, said he's concerned about the influx of for-profit schools. The adult students such schools recruit could fare better at community colleges such as Rose State, he said, which also cater to adult students and tend to be far less expensive than for-profit colleges.
For-profit schools have a place in higher education when they offer programs that aren't available elsewhere, Britton said. But he criticized the high cost and high level of student debt at the proprietary colleges.
“We have far too many students in the for-profit sector who run up extreme debt at such institutions,” he said.
Although most offer classroom-based courses as well, for-profit colleges often make heavy use of online classes. The Arizona-based University of Phoenix, the largest university in the U.S., reports nearly 70 percent of its students are enrolled in online courses.
Serving OKC metro
In the Oklahoma City area, 10 for-profit campuses have opened since 1995. Among these, Platt College has the most campuses, with two locations in Oklahoma City and one in Moore. The college also has campuses in Tulsa, Lawton and Dallas.
Other for-profit colleges that have opened campuses in Oklahoma City since then include the University of Phoenix, Vatterott College, Brown Mackie College and DeVry University.
Troy Thomas, the campus director for University of Phoenix locations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, said schools such as his can be a valuable resource for students.
Thomas said he earned a master of business administration degree from the university. When he began attending the university in 1999, the Oklahoma City location had only been open about a year. For him, he said, faculty members who worked in the field were a major selling point.
For example, he said, one of his economics instructors worked for Chesapeake Energy Corp. That instructor spoke with students about his own industry and how certain economic factors affected it. That style of instruction helped show the real-world application of abstract concepts, Thomas said.
Besides the faculty, Thomas said, the university offers a degree of flexibility that's critical for working adult students. Students can take courses on campus one night a week, or enroll in classes online.
The university also offers a strong support structure, which is helpful for students who need help navigating the college process. Each student has a so-called graduation team that includes an enrollment adviser, finance adviser and academic counselor. The university also has relationships with about 1,000 companies nationwide that hire its graduates, he said.
“We want to help students understand what they want to do from the pre-enrollment phase all the way through the academic journey,” he said.