If you want a real eye-opener about some companies that operate in the post-secondary technical training market, check out Linda Briggs 2004 story: “Federal Probe Targets ITT Tech.” In particular, you must read the comments that accompany the article, where students wax lyrical and profane about their learning experiences. Interestingly, the federal probe cited in this story found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the company’s stock continued to trade in a range from $50 to $70 from mid-2005 until October 2008. It’s still trading at about $42 as I write this story, in fact.
I’m not trying to single out ITT as a “bad actor” in the training industry, particularly for IT subjects; rather, I’d like observe that it’s important for those looking for IT training or degrees to check all aspects of a provider’s posture and reputation–financial, technical, quality of instruction and curriculum, instructor/faculty credentials and ratings, facilities (especially access to state-of-the-art computing labs), and graduate and former attendee ratings and rankings–before signing up for any programs. I’d urge parents (where involved) and prospective students alike to be particularly careful before committing to programs that require students to accept multi-term engagements, either implicitly or explicitly.
One of the posters in the 54 pages of comments (!!!) that the ITT article provoked makes an incredibly telling point: he or she indicated that by attending a local community college, the same coverage and possibly better instruction would have been available at considerably less cost. Throughout my blogs and my career, I have been a big proponent of community college programs, and have taught repeatedly for my local institution, Austin Community College. Not only do community colleges work closely with local employers to build programs to provide qualified workers to fill their ranks, community colleges must also meet local, state, and federal requirements of all kinds just to operate on tax money. These govern everything from quality of education, to availability of financing and grants, to openness, accountability, and quality. Also, community colleges are more or less transparent to those willing to take the time and expend the effort to research their offerings, graduation rates, instructor and program credentials, student demographics, and so forth.
If the current economic climate has you thinking about a return to school, or actively seeking a training, certification, or degree program of some kind, I urge you to include local community colleges in your search pool, even if you have neither the desire nor the intention to actually attend one. This will still help you to establish a basic benchmark against which other, more expensive programs can be evaluated at a minimum, and may provide you with some valuable training or learning experiences as you take to the classroom. As you evaluate other alternatives keep asking yourself “What value adds does this program offer that a community college does not? How do these value adds justify higher costs?” This is particularly important when evaluating online programs (like those from the University of Phoenix, Cappella University, and yes, even ITT itself) which often seduce students with promises of convenience and easy access, and entice them into expensive, long-term programs that they may come to question later on. Again: I’m not trying to start a witch hunt into distance learning programs, either: I’m just trying to urge some caution and investigation into programs that will involve significant amounts of time, effort, and expense to complete.
As with so much else in life, apply the old and sometimes detestable adage “Do your homework!” before signing up for training, certification, or degree programs–especially those that involve commitments of more than one academic term. Better to make a deeply informed decision than to find oneself saying “It seemed like a good idea at the time” sometime down the road.