Monday, October 18, 2010

Insights from 5 1/2 years of California MFT license exam data: Part II

In part one, we learned that there are huge differences between programs in how their graduates perform on California's MFT licensing exams. Here, we'll see how for-profit programs measure up. You may be surprised.

For-profit universities have come under scrutiny in the past few years for aggressive recruiting practices and high costs. While the overwhelming majority of marriage and family therapy graduate programs are non-profit (either public or private), here in California a few programs are in the business of education to make money.

Some of the scrutiny faced by for-profit universities revolves around whether they are so eager to bring in new students that they accept unqualified students who cannot succeed in their fields. Since MFT licensure requires an examination that every applicant takes, we have a handy, easily-measured research question:

How do graduates of for-profit MFT programs perform on state licensing exams, compared to graduates of non-profit programs?

From this list of for-profit colleges and universities, we can identify at least four for-profit MFT programs in California:

  1. University of Phoenix - San Diego
  2. University of Phoenix - Sacramento
  3. Argosy University
  4. California Southern University
These programs, as it turns out, are widely varied when it comes to their graduates' exam performance.

Table 1: Pass rate, CA Standard Written Exam, Graduates of for-profit MFT programs

Considering the better-than-average performance of Argosy graduates and the worse-than-average (but by no means abysmal) performance of Phoenix graduates, it seems that little can be safely concluded about an MFT program simply on the basis of its for-profit/non-profit status. So here are three money-centered things I would ask any program, for-profit or not, about if I were a prospective student:

  • A true accounting of costs. For-profit programs may be expensive, but non-profit programs can be too. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as asking "How much is the tuition?" Availability of financial aid should be a factor, particularly the question of how much aid comes in the form of loans (which need to be paid back) versus scholarships or grants (which do not). It also may be wise to ask about additional costs separate from tuition (books, fees), and whether the program will make you eligible for various stipend and loan reimbursement programs offered at the county, state, and federal levels. Students at for-profit universities appear to have particular difficulty repaying their loans.
  • Graduation rates. If programs (for-profit or not) are, in fact, admitting students who cannot succeed, that may not show up on licensing exam data; the students simply would never get that far. A key criticism of for-profit programs has been that they suffer high dropout rates, leaving students with additional debt but no additional job qualifications to show for it. Ask how many students actually complete the program relative to those who start.
  • Where your money goes. You want the bulk of your tuition money to support your learning. How much does the program spend on faculty salaries, learning technology, and other support for student learning, as opposed to administration, investments, or other costs? Naturally, some other costs are needed for any program to function. But as a general rule, the bulk of your tuition money should be going toward those things that most directly impact your educational experience.
Elsewhere on this blog I've described some other factors that may help you choose the best MFT graduate program for you. The questions here are more financial in nature. They're all worth asking about.

Ultimately, I would not dismiss any of these programs simply because of their for-profit status. Any of them may be the right fit for you. Ask questions, and make sure any decision you make on a graduate education is a well-informed one.

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