Beware of Clown College

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When I enrolled last year, Kaplan Career Institute was still Southeastern Career College. By the time I went to orientation that named had changed and the new building was open. The new facility was impressive, at least compared to the old one (I would have had a hard time telling people I went to school in 100 Oaks Mall). My enrollment in Kaplan was swift. I had picked the school because it was the only American Bar Association accredited paralegal gig in town. I would quickly realize however, that the ABA accreditation did not guarantee a good payoff for my education dollar.

I freely admit that my issues with Kaplan were caused partially by my own ignorance and by my refusal to admit that I had made a mistake. There were plenty of warning signs early on; all of which I ignored. The first warning sign was the intensely hard sell I was given by the ‘admissions rep’. I was told how selective they are and that I seemed like the perfect fit; that they had just a few slots in their upcoming class and would love to get me started. In no time at all, I had applied, was admitted, and filed for financial aid. Despite taking the maximum in federal loans, I was still about $2000 from covering tuition. Luckily Kaplan could hook me up with a higher-interest private loan from their friends at CitiBank. The hassle-free, super-fast, any-credit loans almost made me feel like I was buying another Kia. Despite things feeling just a bit off, I signed on the dotted line.

The ‘class’ I was enrolled in, you know the one that was almost full, included one other person. There might have been a third; if so, he was not around long. Still, it seemed there were plenty of slots left to fill. 

I would like to take this chance to say something about the staff and faculty at Kaplan Career Institute. Most of them were enthusiastic, caring and more than competent. The feelings I have toward the school do not necessarily reflect how I feel about individual instructors or employees.

The folks at Kaplan were understandably proud of their new building. The halls were bright and lined with colorful billboards, the lobby featured a flat-panel LCD, and the dry-erase boards sparkled. The Law Library left something to be desired, with a meager, poorly maintained selection of case law and theory plus extremely limited access to any major legal research tool (this oversight has since been rectified). 

Even though the building was brand new, there was no facility-wide WiFi. There was one access point in the library but it was password protected. You could get the password if you knew who to ask, but it wasn’t posted or easily accessible. My laptop could detect another signal throughout the building, so strong it was unlikely to be from a neighbor, but school administrators pleaded ignorance as to its origin. I remain suspicious. 

The most amusing part of the new building was the bulletin board with letters from past students professing how much they learned and how they liked their new jobs. These letters were filled with cringe-inducing misspellings and atrocious grammar. I do not claim to be perfect on these fronts, but if I ever put together a promotional piece about how well I teach, you can bet I will have it proof-read.   

While being sold on the school, I was told I would have unlimited access to the Internet, library and other school resources while the building was open. This was not a big deal to me, I have all the stuff at home. I could see, however, how some people would consider it a great benefit. This was just one of the many advantages students were sold about the school that turned out to be less-than-100%-true. The ‘unlimited Internet access’ included a filter that you’d more likely find in a high school than institution of higher learning. MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and other popular sites were banned. Again, I would understand this if Kaplan was a high school, but the students here are adults and should be treated as such. I paid a whole lot of money for that Internet access; I should have been able to check my Facebook account.

I admit the Internet complaint is a little petty but it was just one of a series of things that made me feel like I was a child. The most laughable of these were the attendance certificates. I swear corporate HQ must have been on them about raising attendance numbers because they went crazy over it. One night we were pulled out of class to attend an ‘awards assembly.’ Did this assembly recognize academic excellence? Nope. Did is recognize civic contributions? Nope. Did it recognize someone for picking-up all the cigarette butts outside? Nope. This assembly, for which several classes were interrupted, involved presenting attendance certificates. The lucky few who had shown up for class every night got a piece of paper and a picture with the school administrator; gold stars for everyone!

The most disturbing deception was that many students, including myself, were led to believe that the credits we earned would transfer to another school. Many students planned to continue their education and at least finish their bachelors. During the admissions rush every student does sign something acknowledging that credits may not transfer (Kaplan is more than happy to remind you of this), but most come out of the process thinking it would not be a problem. The truth is that if you ever want to go to a ‘real school’, there is a good chance NONE of the credits you earn at Kaplan Career Institute will transfer. I remember watching as this news devastated several of my classmates.

A good number of Kaplan’s students are struggling single mothers tempted by a no-cash-out-of-pocket (Fed Loans + Pell Grants) ticket to a new life. Some of these women wanted nothing more than to be a paralegal but many had dreams of doing more. Instead of helping them fulfill their dreams, Kaplan actually hindered their progress. Students who graduate from Kaplan and attempt to start a bachelors program will most likely have to start over from scratch. This is hard to do since Kaplan will have dried-up almost all of their federal loan and grant money.

It took me six-months and over $10,000 but I finally realized that, at least for my purposes, Kaplan Career Institute was a complete rip-off. I imagine most other for-profit ‘career colleges’ are too. I know some people have graduated and done well for themselves but I can’t help but think most people never reach the land of milk-and-honey promised by the admissions reps. I am now in the process of enrolling in a local, non-profit, regionally accredited school. I hope things turn out better.