Students, lawmakers question value of for-profit colleges

A Senate report revealed abysmal graduation rates at some for-profit schools.

Taryn Zychal thought she’d be working as an industrial designer after graduating from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Instead, it’s the debt collection agencies that are working overtime, calling her nearly 30 times a day from 8:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night.

The 27-year-old says she has around $150,000 due in loan payments from attending the private, for-profit university, but Zychal said she couldn’t get a job in her chosen field, and not one of her credits would transfer when she tried to switch to another school.

With what she says is a useless degree, she can’t pay her loans, which cost $1,500 a month.

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“I don’t think I learned anything at the Art Institute other than how to get scammed by somebody. I don’t think I learned anything to go into an entry-level job in my field,” Zychal said.

The Art Institute’s parent company, Education Management Corp., declined to comment.

There are about 2,000 colleges operating in the U.S. as profit-seeking businesses eligible for federal student aid.Many of these schools have seen enrollment numbers skyrocket with the rise of online courses in higher education.

For-profits offer various degrees, both online and on campus, from certificates and two-year associates degrees to MBAs. Some for-profits — such as Kaplan, owned by The Washington Post Co.; Bridgepoint Education; and the Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix — are publicly traded corporations.

Because Zychal’s story is similar to thousands of other students who’ve attended certain for-profit colleges, the Obama administration in early June approved new regulations requiring for-profit schools to make sure their students are able to pay back federal loans, and a Senate committee is poised to begin drafting legislation.