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  1. #1
    SteveFoerster is offline Resident Gadfly
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    The Biggest For-Profit EDU You've Never Heard Of

    In today's Inside Higher Ed there's a short interview with Penn Foster CEO Frank Britt called The Biggest For-Profit EDU You've Never Heard Of.

    Of course, around here, we've heard of it, but these are academics we're talking about, so apparently it's not required that they keep close track of what's happening in their own back yard. Note that the article has a comments section, though, so perhaps people here with actual PFC experience can go educate the educators?
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  2. #2
    CalDog is offline Registered User
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    There are some additional details that would probably have been of interest to the readers of Inside Higher Ed:

    our school graduates 25,000 students yearly and enrolls approximately 140,000.
    Those are impressive numbers. But note that Penn Foster offers (1) high school diplomas and (2) career education certificates, as well as (3) AS and BS degrees. I don't know of a source for exact data, but I would bet that the vast majority of those students represent categories (1) and (2), and that relatively few are in (3).

    We are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and regionally accredited by the Council on Middle States.
    Sounds great. But note that the regional accreditation part only applies to (1) and (2). Their AS and BS degrees (3) are DETC, but not RA.

    Students receive a top-notch, career-oriented education and graduate with zero debt.
    But only if they graduate. In fact, the vast majority of their degree-seeking students -- probably around 90% -- don't. Penn Foster posts completion rates for its 16 degree programs here. The highest degree completion rate is 18.77 % (paralegal studies); the lowest is 1.57 % (medical assistant ).

    *****

    So the article fails to mention that (1) only a small part of Penn Foster 's total enrollment consists of degree-seeking students; (2) only a small percentage of those students will actually earn degrees; and (3) those degrees will be accredited by DETC, but will not be RA.

    Those points may not be surprising to readers here, but I think they would be relevant to an audience composed of traditional academics that have never heard of Penn Foster before. Maybe these points would help to explain why they have never heard of Penn Foster .
    Last edited by CalDog; 08-09-2013 at 09:08 AM.

  3. #3
    CalDog is offline Registered User
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    Found some numbers in the fine print. The Penn Foster College degree completion rates are based on 728 graduates between 2004-2010.

    728 graduates over six years represents about 121 degrees issued per year. Of their 16 degree programs, 14 are at the AS level. The overall completion rate is 9.3% (in other words, 90.7% of their students fail to graduate).

    So Penn Foster probably issues around 120 DETC-accredited degrees annually, mostly at the associate's level. I wouldn't expect the mainstream university academic community to have much knowledge of a college like this.

    *****

    For comparison, Penn Foster 's career school completion rate is based on 16,623 graduates from 2008 to 2010, or about 8,311 per year. The high school completion rate is based on 5,878 graduates in 2008.

    So Penn Foster is clearly a much larger player in the online high school and career education markets. But I wouldn't expect the mainstream university academic community to be familiar with those markets.
    Last edited by CalDog; 08-09-2013 at 11:30 AM.

  4. #4
    SteveFoerster is offline Resident Gadfly
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    Not every student's goal is the degree, though. That's likely much more the case with Penn Foster , since some of their courses are ACE-evaluated and others are not. If a lot of people use them as transfer credit on the cheap, then their graduation rate will be in the gutter despite their students having reached their goals.
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  5. #5
    sanantone is offline Registered User
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    But you have the option of purchasing individual courses from Penn Foster without enrolling in a degree program. So, I wonder if students purchasing individual courses are even counted in the graduation figures.
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  6. #6
    CalDog is offline Registered User
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    Not every student's goal is the degree, though. That's likely much more the case with Penn Foster , since some of their courses are ACE-evaluated and others are not. If a lot of people use them as transfer credit on the cheap, then their graduation rate will be in the gutter despite their students having reached their goals.
    That's an interesting point, and one that probably would not occur to most mainstream academic readers.

    But the IHE story won't enlighten them, because it's another point that the story fails to make.

    It may be true that mainstream academia can learn something from Penn Foster . But realistically, we need to acknowledge that Penn Foster may differ from mainstream academia in some important respects. If Penn Foster is a DETC-accredited school that primarily educates non-degree-seeking students, then those seem like relevant points that should be acknowledged. Most IHE readers probably work at regionally accredited schools that do focus on degree-seeking students.
    Last edited by CalDog; 08-09-2013 at 01:01 PM.

  7. #7
    Kizmet is offline Moderator
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    Some good points made in this thread. I think of PF as being primarily a vocational school. In that regard I don't know how good they are at what they do. I've always had an eye on their motorcycle program but that was just for my personal enjoyment. If I enrolled in that program would it make me more competitive in the marketplace? I don't know. They have so many vocational programs and clearly a lot of students but do those numbers translate into jobs? I don't know. We don't hear bad things about PF on this board so I'm guessing that overall people are satisfied.
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  9. #8
    Johann is offline Registered User
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    I was surprised for a moment about the low completion rate - but then again, a degree program is a longer and more expensive commitment than their vocational courses, so perhaps it's natural that the attrition rate would be higher here.

    And it is. The average vocational completion rate is around 47% IIRC. The table has a high level of variance. The lowest completion rate I could find (in a hurry) was actually lower than the degree-completion rate - Drafting with AutoCAD, at 8.40%. Gunsmithing was pretty high - a completion rate of over 67%. A tribute to determination and mental toughness?

    I remember reading (somewhere in this forum) that Penn Foster 's predecessor school, ICS, had some abysmal completion rates - like 3% or less, back many years ago in the 20s and 30s. Glad to see this has changed.

    Yes - 9% is a low degree-completion rate. But PFC serves a somewhat precarious market, at commendably low cost: those who are often without the financial resources or aid access that applies to students elsewhere. It can easily happen that a person's life or financial status changes so he/she is unable to stay committed to a degree program. If someone does find it necessary to drop out from PFC, they're not assuming a $20K, $50K or even $100K debt-load for a degree that didn't happen -- so there's less impetus to continue "riding the tiger" and more to try for a graceful exit, with hope of a later return.

    I don't think the low degree-completion rate says anything bad about PFC. It's good they have enough grads overall that they can continue to offer low-cost degree programs. Schools like PFC are needed.

    Johann
    Last edited by Johann; 08-11-2013 at 11:34 AM.

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