Medicine & Health

Healthcare certificate programs vary widely in return on investment, with some offering little or nothing back

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At Polaris, Hales’ alma mater, graduates of its medical assisting program reportedly earned about $2,000 less than those with only a high school diploma. Third Way’s analysis finds there’s no return on investment for that program at that institution.

Leaders at Polaris have seen the data. It surprised them. They’ve gone to local hospitals and pushed for higher wages.

“We’ve been rather frank about starting salaries and what an entry level medical assistant should be paid,” said Karen Rayk, the adult education director at Polaris.

For many, the decision to enter this field centers on a desire to help others or to use the job as a stepping stone to other positions like nursing, according to Amy Hrouda-Traum, who teaches in Polaris’ medical assisting program. She’s never had anyone leave the program after conversations about potential salaries.

“Many students tell me it’s not about money,” she said. “It’s about being happy in a lifelong career, not just a job they do not enjoy.”

That particular offering at Polaris has a net price of about $7,700. It’s far more expensive at other places, including Fortis College. The for-profit institution has outposts in Cuyahoga Falls, Centerville, Cincinnati and Westerville.

Its medical assisting program’s net price is about $22,000, yet those who completed the program made $1,300 less than those who only have a high school diploma.

“We’re just honest with people about the industry and how much you can make as a general rule,” said Brian Parker, president of the Cuyahoga Falls campus. “And people choose to do that.”

Students know they’re training for entry-level positions, he said, adding that the college’s website is clear in laying out relevant information, including its 56% graduation rate for first-time students. Parker said the college’s marketing efforts are run by its corporate arm.

The way colleges talk isn’t decided by accident. Institutions nationwide spent a reported $730 million on advertising in 2017. It’s especially pronounced at for-profit schools. The Brookings Institution reported finding those places spent $400 on advertising for each student, far more than the $48 at private and the $14 at public colleges.

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