Once you've decided what field you want to go into and what certifications you'll need, you'll eventually have to find out who hires such people. Make that your first step instead of your last. Grab the classifieds, search the job web sites, and get the names of a half-dozen companies that actually employ folks who do the job you want to do. Then call them up one by one, ask for their human resources department or whoever does the hiring for your chosen field, and talk to them directly.
Introduce yourself, tell them that you're preparing for training to allow you to become a [fill in the blank], and ask them straight out which schools in the area produce the best candidates for the position you're after. Ask if they've had problems with graduates of any particular institution, or if, based on their observations, there are better or worse places to go about obtaining the education you'll need.
The guy or gal on the other end of the line may not be forthcoming with "This place is great, this place sucks" opinions, but should be more than willing to tell you which program has produced their best employees or most qualified applicants. Unless the local job market is flooded with recently laid-off techies, they have a vested interest in not only not blowing off a prospective employee, but also helping guide you into the program that is most likely to produce a well-rounded, capable, competent employee. A small added bonus to doing this before you start is that you will have already introduced yourself to a half-dozen prospective employers, who may remember you when you come calling for a job, remember that you cared enough to seek out the best education that you could receive, and remember that you respected their opinion enough to seek their advice. It doesn't hurt.
Bonus hint: If you want to be the big fish in a little pond, calling a bunch of little ponds probably won't help you out much. They may have one geek running the whole shebang, or shop out any really tough work to consultants. Call up the big boys, the mid-size companies, and the consulting agencies, who are likely to have more than one or two people with your desired job. They'll have a lot more experience with the good, bad, and ugly schools than someone who hired one generic, do-everything IT guy five years ago.
I would personally avoid places that proclaim a "No refunds" policy up front, such as New Horizons Computer Learning Centers. There are many legitimate reasons for instituting a policy limiting refunds, chief among them to avoid having people who are just not bright enough, interested enough or dedicated enough to do the necessary work come back whining, "This didn't help me make my great-grandfather's age, so I want a full refund." But there is no legitimate business reason to institute policies that offer no flexibility and no guarantee to a consumer who does everything right, while offering a convenient way for the school to dismiss legitimate concerns of incompetent or shoddy teaching.
Under their "No refunds, period" policy, they are not responsible for anything, no matter what the problem is. Their instructor didn't bother to show up? Tough, no refunds. Their instructor is incompetent? Tough, no refunds. Their building burned down and, as it clearly states in your contract, you can only take your courses at the specified location? Tough, no refunds. And no, the scenarios listed above are not far-fetched.
You, as a reasonable consumer, think going in that it's highly unlikely that you will be dissatisfied with the courses, and if you are, it'll have to be for a reason that clearly calls for a refund in spite of the "No refunds" policy, like those listed above. Surely a manager isn't going to sit there looking you dead in the eye and say "No refunds" if you take time off work, come to class every day and the instructor doesn't bother to show up, right? Don't bet on it.
If you've got your heart set on a place whose contract contains objectionable terms, you can see if they'll agree to amend the contract so it gives you some protection. The easy way to do this is to use our Survival Guides.
The Survival Guide for amending your contract is here. (Adobe Acrobat required to view and print.)
As a potential student, you should get to know a little something about the men and women who will be delivering your instruction. This isn't high school, where you take the teacher that's given to you and do the best you can. You're paying for it, you have the right to know whether the person who'll be teaching you this course or that has an MIS degree or no certification at all. And whether or not they've ever had a computer job outside of the classroom.
Ask for a copy of the resume' of each and every instructor you will have in your various courses. Read them, evaluate them and decide for yourself whether the instructors are acceptable. If one is iffy, ask if somebody else teaches the class at a different time. I realize that a degree or even having held a job outside of teaching is no guarantee, and that sometimes a great teacher will have an unimpressive resume'. But statistically, your odds improve with every year of real-world experience and every bit of formal education your instructor has survived.
Be certain that you save the copies of each resume'. It has been alleged by one correspondent that at least one manager lied to his own instructor about whether that instructor had received certification to teach a particular course. If that instructor's resume' stated he was certified when he was not, that's evidence of fraud, in case things don't go well in the class. If the instructor does perform well, then who cares about certification?
If you have questions about an instructor's qualifications, call him/her and ask about it. These are people, they have phones, and they certainly shouldn't mind answering questions from somebody who's about to spend thousands of dollars for the privilege of sitting in their classrooms. You can even ask for copies of their evaluations. According to one instructor, most keep copies of their evaluations, and a good instructor will have a 90-95% positive rating.
The easy way to evaluate your instructors is to use our Survival Guides.
The Survival Guide for instructor evaluation is here. (Adobe Acrobat required to view and print.)
There are set prices for each of these courses, but purchasing courses from one of these institutions is more like purchasing a car than purchasing a can of tomatoes. You'll find that if you buy this add-on or that Intro course, there are discounts to be had. There are packages you can purchase that are 30% cheaper than the package components if purchased separately. "If you sign up for all these classes and pay in advance, we can offer you this price", etc. etc.
When you have such a loose pricing structure, market forces and your own negotiating skills will determine how well you can do. If the school you're thinking of attending has full classrooms and a waiting list for the courses you want, you may end up paying retail. If there are open desks, then realize that the friendly, helpful, smiling person sitting across the desk from you is not your friend, is only helpful because he's trying to make a sale, and that's not a smile on his face, he's merely leering at your wallet. He is a commissioned salesman, even though his card says "Account Executive", or whatever other euphemism the school you wish to attend has come up with for their sales force.
The best tack to take is to gather information first. Find out the names of all the schools in the area that offer your course(s), and be prepared to trot out their names in negotiations. If you've got your heart set on one institution, at least call some of the others and find out how good you can do negotiating with them. If nothing else, it's good practice. Call the schools you have no intention of attending, visit the ones you're interested in.
Then find out what the biggest discount you can hope for is, the discount offered to people who sign up for every course under the sun, or companies that send a hundred of their people there for training. A good estimate is 40-50% at a place like New Horizons. The list price minus that discount is a number that still allows the school to make money. They do nothing out of the kindness of their hearts or the desire to staff the world with seasoned professionals. It's all about money, and an empty desk makes them no money at all.
I'm not going to try to teach the art of negotiation here, but there are a few key things to do and remember.
First, it doesn't matter if you're a janitor who wants to be something else, a high school kid who wants to dodge college but still make more money than you would flipping burgers, or a long-time geek who needs a piece of paper with a shiny seal that says "I know how to do this", you must look your most professional when going into negotiations. Appearance is important.
If you look like a professional, you are much more likely to be treated with respect. Trim the goatee (if you're a guy), shave the legs (if you're a woman), wear your Wedding and Funeral suit or your best "Professional Working Woman" dress (with nylons and the proper shoes), and you get an immediate boost in stature in the eyes of the salesman. Yes, it's unfair and shallow. It's also the way the world has worked for centuries. Sorry.
Attitude comes in at a very close second after appearance. The biggest mistake you can make is to let him sell to you. It's your money, and you've come to him to offer him the opportunity to earn some of it for himself and some for his employer. Always, always, always remember that the guy you're looking at gets no money for not signing you up, huge money for making you pay through the nose, and some money for something in between. Some money is better than no money, and you aren't going to let him get away with huge money. You may feel free to remind him that some money is better than none, no more than twice during negotiations. You may also remind him, if his classroom is neither full nor empty, that any money you give him above the cost of course materials is pure bonus for the company, because if even one student is signed up for it, that instructor still has to show up, the room will be in use, the lights will be on and the computers running. An empty desk in a classroom doesn't make them anything.
If he doesn't get serious, stand up, shake his hand and say "I'm sorry, that's simply out of my price range." Walk away. If he lets you get away, you still have your money. If he persuades you to sit back down, he may be able to miraculously come up with some way to make it all work out. Until you sign the contract and write the check, you have the power, not him.
There's another thing to remember when negotiating, and it's even more important than getting the right price. That is, that even though there's a preprinted contract, that doesn't mean that the terms cannot be changed.
If, for example, you see that all-important "no refunds" policy, but your salesman assures you that you will get a full refund if the instructor doesn't show up or is incompetent to teach the class, then have him put it in writing, period. If he's willing to look you dead in the eye and say with any certainty that something is the case, he should not hesitate for a moment to write it down in an addendum to your contract, and sign it. His word is worth precisely NOTHING.
In case you didn't catch that, I'll say it again: If your salesman contradicts what is written on the contract you sign, it is worth NOTHING unless the offending clause is stricken from the contract and initialed by both of you, and an addendum is attached which fully explains the new terms, and is signed by both of you.
Once again, the easy way to do this is to use our Survival Guides.
The Survival Guide for amending your contract is here. (Adobe Acrobat required to view and print.)
And just one more thing: There's no such thing as a deal that's only good today. If you aren't positively delighted with the price you've negotiated, the terms of the contract, and the way you've been treated, DON'T sign! Tell 'em you'll think about it, that you want to look over the contract more carefully, whatever...
Take the paperwork with you when you leave, making sure you get the business card of the salesman who spent time with you. If you DO eventually decide you want to take the deal, your salesman will be very happy to close the deal and collect his commission tomorrow, next Tuesday, or next month.
I do not know if places such as New Horizons even offer financing, but PLEASE do not take them up on it if they do. You will do better at your credit union or bank, unless the school's financing package is interest-free, not payable upon demand, and there are no other nasty little clauses buried in the terms and conditions.
Beg your mom for a loan, spread your education out over a longer period of time, do anything short of knocking over liquor stores, but don't obtain financing from these people. If you do, in my humble opinion, it will be a decision you regret later.
Don't write a check or pay cash for major purchases, ever. And for god's sake don't give them your checking account number and set up any automatic payments. I'm going to assume that you have the money, and you know how to use credit cards without slipping into thousands of dollars of high-interest debt. If you do not, you have more to learn than a techie school (or I) can teach you.
Assuming you have your act together, pay for the classes on a credit (not debit) card so that if you run into some nightmare situation, and the school isn't forthcoming with a solution, you can place the charge into dispute (called a chargeback in the credit industry), and at least have some leverage and possibly some protection. And hey, you can always use the airline miles. It's important to note that your ability to place an item into dispute goes away after 60 days, so don't pay for more classes than you can cram into the two months immediately following your signing of the charge slip.
Also, please note the difference between a credit card and a debit card. A debit card, even one with a Visa or Mastercard logo, offers no protection whatsoever. You are not entitled to place an item into dispute when you purchase it with a debit card, and because a debit card sucks the money directly out of your checking account, your money is long gone before you even know what you've bought.
There are several avenues available to you if New Horizons, or any other school, has already failed to deliver on its promises. First and foremost, get yourself a pad of paper, and start a log (Or use our Survival Guides. The Survival Guide for keeping track of your attempts to rectify the situation is here. (Adobe Acrobat required to view and print.)
Write down exactly what the problem is, and exactly what you want done about it. Make note of whether you've tried to address the problems, either directly with the instructor, through the evaluation forms, or with previous discussions with managers or others at the school. Be prepared to write it down whenever you call anybody, send any emails or snailmails, or do anything regarding the situation.
Next, call the school and ask to speak to the General Manager. If you don't specifically ask for the GM, you'll be sent through the various levels of customer disservice personnel, marketing reps and salesmen, as I was. Don't waste your time talking to the little dogs who've only been trained how to bark "No!"
Ask for the full name and title of everyone you talk to, and write down the date, time, names of people spoken to, and summary of points covered for each call you make. If the first couple of telephone calls do not resolve the problem to your satisfaction, It's time to write a letter. The best route here is email to get it there fast, followed by a snailmail copy of the same letter. Detail the problem, the expected solution, and the steps you have taken thus far that have failed to resolve the matter.
Note: As of early 2001, New Horizons does have a "policy" page on their web site, with a link for writing the powers that be about problems you are having with franchises. It remains to be seen whether anybody's problem gets fixed this way, but it's worth a shot.
New Horizons Dispute Resolution page
If that doesn't work, you will be sending a letter to the President, CEO, and Board Chairman of the company involved. Once again, little dogs just bark "no." These people have a responsibility to keep the company's name in good standing, avoid negative publicity and lawsuits, and keep the company's stock shares trading at decent prices. They have a much better reason for trying to solve your problem than some low-level customer disservice rep who's paid to try to keep every penny possible in the company coffers, knowing that most people won't bother to do anything worse than bad-mouth the company to a few friends.
Surf on over to their web site, and if it's like most corporate sites, you'll probably not find the names and addresses of these people unless you find the link for "Investor Relations", or perhaps "Press Releases." If you still can't find them, find a phone number, any phone number (toll-free preferred, of course), call it, and ask. SOMEBODY has to know who's running things there. If that proves fruitless, try the SEC web site or the stock trading sites. Any publicly traded company must file statements with the SEC listing the officers of the company.
Once you find 'em, send those letters and emails out. Make sure you use a business letter format, including their address, your address and phone number, the date, the facts, and the cc: line to list everybody you're sending the letter to. An example of this can be found here. Note that this example doesn't include my letterhead. Make sure your letter includes your letterhead.
You should hear from them within a week or two. Executives, even those for tech training companies, don't always know how to read their email, and yours will be just another piece of snailmail on the stack. It will eventually get read and responded to, though.
If the answer isn't what you want to hear, you can report the school to the Better Business Bureau (big deal), the Consumer Protection Department of your state government (often within your state's Justice Dept.), and the school licensing board of your state (For Wisconsin, that's the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board. They regulate Private Post-Secondary Schools in the State of Wisconsin. http://eab.state.wi.us/static/
You can also picket outside of the offices of your local school. They don't care for this very much. A few caveats when using this strategy:
And lastly, be sure to tell your story here. Whether with New Horizons or any other school, we'll put it up as long as it's relevant.
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