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Article updated: 3/5/2012 6:58 AM

Business leaders mixed about hiring graduates from for-profit schools

The DeVry University campus in Addison.

The DeVry University campus in Addison.

 
Lisa Madigan

Lisa Madigan

 
Dave Parulo

Dave Parulo

 
Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.com Career Education Corp. headquarters in Schaumburg.

Bob Chwedyk/bchwedyk@dailyherald.com Career Education Corp. headquarters in Schaumburg.

 
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For-profit schools have come under fire in recent years as state and federal authorities scrutinize their business practices and whether their graduates can find jobs.

Still, businesses around the suburbs seek quality job candidates who have the necessary training to become viable and contributing members of the workforce. Do for-profit schools fill the bill?

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Business leaders are often divided, with some firm believers that some for-profit schools provide fully trained and quality workers, while others wouldn't even consider such a job candidate.

"Some clients are picky about education and elect not to see individuals from for-profit schools and would rather see someone from more traditional schools, like the University of Illinois, Northern Illinois and others," said Gary Bozza, president of Management Recruiters of Chicago Northwest in Lake Zurich. "But if we feel strongly about a candidate from a for-profit, we'll fight for that candidate and ask the client to put aside those feelings."

The mixed feelings among business leaders comes on the heal of various actions against some schools in recent years.

Last June, the U.S. Department of Education, headed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who formerly led the Chicago Public Schools, launched new regulations aimed at for-profits and ensuring graduates get gainful employment. Studies showed that students at for-profit institutions represent 12 percent of all higher education students, 26 percent of all student loans, and 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default, the department said.

Then there are the investigations and lawsuits that have checkered their reputations.

In 2007, the Illinois and New York attorney general's offices settled with DeVry University and Career Education Corp. with DeVry returning about $88,000 to students. Both schools adopted a code of conduct requiring them to tell students that they have a right to select the lender of their choice.

In April 2011, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the federal government intervened on a whistle-blower lawsuit filed against Education Management Corp. and its subsidiary schools, the Illinois Institutes of Art in Chicago and Schaumburg, and Chicago Argosy University in Schaumburg, alleging that they violated the Higher Education Act by paying recruiters commissions and other incentives.

Madigan then filed a lawsuit in January against Westwood College for engaging in deceptive practices that left several Chicago and suburban students with up to $70,000 each in debt and a criminal justice degree that couldn't qualify them for a job at state or local police departments. Since that case was filed, the office received more than 800 additional complaints against the school, which has campuses in Chicago and Woodridge and five other states.

"These kids get grants, federal loans and private loans and the financing and debt become unconscionable," Madigan said, referring to the Westwood case. "They go into debt and have a useless degree."

Westwood felt differently. "We are proud of our legacy of helping students obtain their educational goals. We have hundreds of successful graduates working in the private and public criminal justice field throughout the state of Illinois," Westwood said in a statement.

However, Madigan and other experts agree that not all for-profit schools are bad. Some tout the training of such students.

"Yes, there are two categories of thought on for-profits. Some are more in it for the profit while others are more in it for the education," said Dean DeBiase, chairman and CEO of Entertainment.com, with offices in Chicago and Troy, Mich., and chairman of RebootPartners.com in Lake Forest.

DeBiase has led a number of companies in the past, including TNS Media, which was later sold. He has hired several DeVry technology students.

"I've become more and more of a fan of some for-profits," DeBiase said.

About 87 percent of Addison-based DeVry University's June 2010, October 2010 and February 2011 graduates in the active job market were employed in their fields within six months of graduation at an average salary of $42,645, said DeVry spokesman Ernest Gibble.

As for Schaumburg-based Career Education, the numbers weren't as clear. "There are hundreds of rates published across all our schools," said spokesman Mark Spencer. He noted that traditional nonprofit colleges and universities are "generally exempt from tracking and reporting career placements, so such information is generally not available to their prospective students."

Other schools, like the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu see their students hired at restaurants and elsewhere in the hospitality industry, said Dave Parulo, president of Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau.

"Earlier in my career, when I was on the hotel side of things, we would also hire folks with travel agency training from places like Sawyer School for hotel reservation departments," Parulo said.

Still, the longer these graduates are out of school and in the workforce, where they got their degree isn't much of an issue.

"The longer these young people are employed, the less impact they'll see on where they went to school," Bozza said. "If a candidate can demonstrate that they helped to generate revenue for an organization they're employed at, that would be more likely to be considered. It's about performance verses the degree."

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