About Proprietary Schools

The term "proprietary school" is derived from the word "proprietor" (owner), and commonly refers to private postsecondary educational institutions operated for profit. In Missouri, the Proprietary School Certification program is responsible for the oversight of a wide variety of schools, not just traditional proprietary schools. As a result, the program is often referred to as the Postsecondary School Certification Program.

Types of Proprietary Schools

The following is a list of the main categories of schools that must meet the requirements of the Proprietary School Certification Program. Each category includes schools that are for-profit and not-for-profit.

Private vocational schools (located in Missouri)

Also referred to as private career schools, these institutions prepare graduates for entering the workforce in a specific field or related fields.

Private schools or colleges that offer college-level instructional programs (located in Missouri)

These institutions may offer programs in an academic subject and/or specialized degree areas relating to specific occupations or professions.

Postsecondary institutions (not located in Missouri) that offer courses or programs of instruction in the state

This category of institutions includes both for-profit and not-for-profit colleges and universities based outside of the state as well as non-Missouri private career schools.

Non-Missouri postsecondary institutions that recruit students in Missouri

This applies to schools that employ recruiters that work in the state or that operate a recruitment office in the state.

Things You Should Know

There are a few important questions that you should ask when you begin looking at a proprietary school to attend.

Is the school operating legally?

The terms incorporated or chartered refer to registering as a corporation with the Missouri Secretary of State. Although it is strictly voluntary and not required to operate legally, most Missouri schools are incorporated. Generally, the purpose of incorporation is the protection of the assets of individuals associated with the corporation.

Sometimes schools will use their incorporated status to advertise. For example, "chartered by the state of Missouri" or "authorized by the state of Missouri to grant degrees." Incorporation does not convey any approval, assurance, or guarantee by the state of Missouri of the integrity of an incorporated school or its programs. In addition, any function the school lists in its articles of incorporation (such as granting degrees) does not provide the school a legal basis to perform that function. It is subject to the regulation of the state agency having jurisdiction in that area.

Have any complaints been filed against the school?

The Proprietary School Certification Program has a formal process for investigating complaints about schools that are certified to operate. Contact the MDHE to find out if there are any outstanding complaints against a school. For additional sources of information regarding complaints against a school, you may contact the Better Business Bureau, the school's accrediting agency, or the Missouri Attorney General.

Will my coursework transfer?

If your plans include additional education, transfer of credit may be an important factor in choosing a school. The decision to grant credit for coursework from another institution is always made by the receiving institution; therefore, you must contact the institution you plan to attend to ask about the types of coursework they will accept. Many schools provide prospective students with a list of schools and employers that accept their credit or their graduates. While this information is helpful, you should do a little investigating on your own. Check with some of the employers and institutions on the list to verify they have and will take graduates from the school you are considering.

What information is available from the school?

Call the school and request a catalog. Read it carefully. The catalog should give you a basic understanding of the school: the programs, tuition and fees, faculty, facilities and equipment, and policies and procedures. If there is anything you do not understand, make a list of questions to ask a school representative.

Can I visit the school?

The most important step in making an informed decision is to visit the school before you enroll. Make an appointment to talk with school representatives. Below is a suggested list of questions, but always ask for an explanation of anything you do not understand.

Other Questions

What are the school's admissions standards and application procedures?
How long is the program?
What skills are taught?
How much of the program is lecture and how much is hands-on training?
Does the program include any on-the-job training?
How much does the program cost?
What is included in the cost of tuition?
Are there any additional costs such as: supplies, books, equipment, registration fees, application fees, uniforms (if applicable), materials kits, graduation fees, or student association fees?
Does the school offer financial assistance or a payment plan?
What is the school's policy regarding grades, attendance, conduct and dress?
What is the formal procedure for handling student complaints?
Of the students who start the program, how many graduate?
Of the students who graduate from the program, how many are working in their chosen fields?
What kind of placement assistance is available?

Take a tour of the facilities and sit in on a class. Notice the ratio of students per teacher in the classrooms. Is there enough space and equipment for all students? While you are in the classrooms, take the opportunity to talk with students about their experiences at the school. Do they like the program? How do they feel about the instructors? How much time do they spend on homework outside the classroom?

Is there a contract?

If you decide to attend the school certified to operate by the MDHE, you will probably sign an enrollment agreement upon acceptance to the school. This is the legally binding contract between you and the school. The school agrees to provide the program of instruction and the other services as outlined in the catalog. In return, you agree to pay a certain sum of money and abide by the rules and regulations of the school. Read the entire document thoroughly before you sign, and do not sign unless you understand all the provisions it contains. Once you have signed the agreement, be sure to keep a copy for your records.