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For-profit joints can’t beat an SIU

9-13-2010 Download copyphofrom Google Images Exteriors University Illinois Champaign-Urbancampus.

9-13-2010 Download copyphoto from Google Images of Exteriors of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana campus.

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Updated: March 18, 2013 6:31AM

The conversation between the mom and daughter walking in front of me had grown quite animated, so I decided to listen in.

From what I could gather, Mom herself hadn’t gone to college and admitted it wasn’t something she knew much about. Still, she had her reservations. But that wasn’t stopping the teen from putting on the hard sell about why she should do this.

And with that, they walked into one of those for-profit colleges.

No, I wanted to shout, don’t do that!

Just last summer U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) headed a committee that released a highly critical report on for-profit colleges. The schools are costly and 96 percent of all students have to take out significant loans. They employ sizable recruiting staffs, yet once students enroll, the institutions do a mediocre job of making sure their recruits remain and finish. In fact, the Harkin report found, the majority of students don’t complete the course work. So now they have no degree or certificate, but they have enormous debt and no way of paying it off.

That’s why I wanted to butt into that mom-and-daughter conversation. (I’m as surprised as you are that I did not.)

Then there is another kind of misguided student. He or she comes from a middle-class family strapped for cash, yet the parents go along with the kid’s plan to attend a far-flung private school for a degree in, say, education. (“She really wants to go,” the parents offer lamely, though there are state schools that offer solid education degree programs.) The student may actually graduate, but again only after racking up enormous debt. And then she moves into a career that is not likely to bring a high-dollar salary, if she can even get a job.

Seriously, people, I have exercised extreme self-control in not butting in and saying to these parents, “Get a backbone and say no to that future debt.”

And I have often wondered why more young people don’t consider community colleges or state schools.

I think I have figured it out.

For-profit schools have excellent advertising campaigns. I just saw a commercial for some school I had never heard of and, heck, I wanted to sign up, it was so touchy-feely pretty. Many other high-dollar private schools are on students’ radar because of enormous media coverage, usually because of sports teams.

As a result, the more affordable community college or state school route is never taken by the very people who need it most. So I was really excited to hear radio commercials on stations kids listen to (think B96) for Southern Illinois University. I gave SIU a call and learned there are billboards around town, too, and the school’s going heavy on the social media.

SIU spokesman Rod Sievers said the ads started last year when the university noticed it was drawing slightly fewer students from Chicago. Since then, he’s heard “anecdotally” that the ads have drawn the attention of potential students. Chancellor Rita Cheng said she was “just tickled” I’d heard the ad and said the campaign was needed “to break through the clutter” of all that students are bombarded with nowadays.

Cheng is the first to say SIU isn’t the least expensive college around (it falls in the middle of the pack), but with financial aid it can be an affordable.

“People need to know there is high-quality education in the state,” she said. “You don’t have to go out of state and don’t have to pay high-priced tuition.”

Remember that, folks. Don’t make me have to butt into your college conversation.

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