It’s apparently really hard to find information about some vocational colleges, especially that information that seems really important for potential students to understand.

This has long been a problem for for-profit institutions and community colleges. But regulations issued by the Department of Education a year ago were supposed to address that dilemma. It isn’t working out so well. According to an article by Jahna Berry at The Arizona Republic:

For-profit schools, from culinary academies and medical-billing programs to full-service universities, were required to create a page on their websites that tells students the cost of tuition, books and fees, the amount of debt students are likely to take on, graduation rates and job-placement rates, plus information about what jobs they could get with their chosen degree.

However, many disclosure websites are difficult to find, according to a spot check made by The Arizona Republic of more than a dozen for-profit schools operating in Arizona as well as some community-college non-degree programs.

Part of the problem is that the rules are complicated enough to allow creative interpretation. Schools have to report placement but different institutions report placement differently.

Berry reports that Le Cordon Bleu culinary school says it has an incredibly good 90 percent placement rate but that’s probably because that “includes any work in which graduates use 20 percent of the skills that they gained in school.” DeVry includes in its placement rate students who have jobs while they’re attending school, which doesn’t really say anything about the quality of the programs. Students who wish to enroll in smaller programs are also out of luck; schools don’t have to post information about programs with fewer than 10 students.

Berry reports that in many cases it is possible for potential students to find this information, but it’s often buried in the website or only available if one calls up the institutions and asks to speak with specific people.

If this regulation worked well, future students would be able to look at institutions’ Web sites and compare schools based on tuition, debt, and job placement in order to find the vocational program that would be most likely to give them a better job at a low price.

But all of this makes it pretty impossible for people to evaluate schools using comparable information.

Apparently Ernest Gibble, a spokesman from DeVry, said that:

Students that take DeVry courses and are already employed know exactly what education they need to remain or advance in their career. Their choice reflects the quality of the program. Also, some students find work in their field BEFORE graduation and would also be included in the data.

Well sure, but the only way placement information is useful to potential students is if the all schools report on placement following graduation. If students have jobs without degrees it’s not really clear its helpful for them to go to the school at all, is it?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer