HUGE difference in school tuition costs - WHY??

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

I've been considering a career in medical coding and billing. A friend is about to graduate from Ultimate Medical Academy with her diploma in it and suggested I take courses online from there. So I checked into it and discovered that it costs $14,500 for an 8 month course to get a diploma. I don't qualify for any "free" money--just loans. And I really didn't want to get myself into debt to the tune of $15,000 without knowing that I'll like the career or even be able to get a job in the field. That's just a lot of borrowed money in an unreliable economy! Of course they gave me all the usual hooplah about how it's an investment in my career, blah blah blah.

Well, someone else had mentioned Penn Foster a few days ago. They also offer a similar online course with a diploma in less than a year. I checked them out online and discovered tuition and books cost...are you ready for this...$998. If you pay it all up front, you get a discount, so you pay $913.

Ok, so what's the huge price difference about?? Why is the tuition and books at one school nearly $15,000 and at the other only $1,000? Is one just greatly overpriced? The course outlines look very similar. I know some people will say that you get what you pay for, but I know all of you are frugal shoppers too. So maybe someone can explain the HUGE difference to me.

The interesting thing is that Penn Foster publicly lists their tuition costs on their website, out in the open. In all the stuff I read at UMA and all the paperwork I filled out, the tuition costs were never displayed openly, unless I overlooked them. They did explain the costs to me on the phone but stated I'd get financial aid to cover most of it. Then I found out the "financial aid" was low interest loans (8%). Of course, they sent me a list of websites where I could try to track down some scholarships that I might qualify for. The Penn Foster school states that they'll give their students 100% financing with NO interest.

Has anyone had any experience with either of these schools or a similar situation? I really can't see that there could be too much difference in the education. The course outlines look similar and the length of time to complete the class is about the same. Investing $1000 in this career doesn't seem like too big a gamble to me. If I don't like, I've at least learned something and I've only lost $1000. I used to spend way more than that yearly on junk food. LOL

Any thoughts or words of wisdom or experience?


Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

None to offer, but I'm as intrigued as you are. I hope you get some good replies.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I would look carefully at the courses and the material you'll be covering and see if you can find some differences there. And I'd also ask them both for some stats/info on career placement after graduation--you may find some differences there. Sort of like colleges--you'll pay a lot more to go to an Ivy League school than you will to some little no-name school, but the Ivy league name carries a lot more weight (deserved or not) so a degree from there can make it easier to find a job and get a higher salary. Also look for things like ratio of teacher to students (less important online than at a brick and mortar school, but you still want to make sure you can get attention from instructors when needed). And look for how available the instructors are to help out/answer questions--do you have to jump through hoops to get to them, or do the instructors go out of their way to make sure they make time for you?

I'd also recommend calling both schools and explaining that you found another similar program that's much more/less expensive, and ask them why their school is so much cheaper/more expensive than the other one. Of course take everything they say with a grain of salt since they of course both want you to sign up for their program, but you may get some useful info. Maybe the cheaper school gets funding from somewhere else--sort of like how a state university is a lot cheaper than a private university because the state school gets public funding, but you can get a perfectly good education either place.

And lastly, consider calling around to some hospitals and doctor's offices in your area (or whoever you'd be ultimately applying with for a job) and ask them if they have any thoughts on the two schools. If both schools are reasonably well known and they've hired people from them before, they can probably tell you which one they'd look more favorably at on a resume (if it makes a difference)

SF Bay Area, CA(Zone 9b)

IMHO most of the "career colleges" are a ripoff. I've known a lot of people (including my sister and myself) who've gone to them, and I've never met anyone who profited from the so-called education they got there. In my case, I only went for a few months to secretarial school before I got sick and dropped out, but they took my mom's money and never helped me get back into school or anything else. In my sister's case she went all the way through the course (medical assistant) and never received even a phone call from their "counselors" who are supposed to place you. And I've seen this time and time again.

I made my own way in the world being paid decently or well for all kinds of admin work (secretary, admin asst, word processing, systems admin, etc.), not of which was thanks to that school.

I've been told several times that there's money to be made in medical transcription/coding, but I have never met anyone who does it at all, let alone for a living. I'd take ecrane's advice and call the HR departments of some hospitals and large medical practices and not only ask them about these two schools but also if they ever have a need for someone trained in this field and if so do they go through these kinds of schools to find employees.

Rose Lodge, OR(Zone 8b)

I know someone who's a medical transcriptionist & she's not getting much work right now.

But she's kind of a numskull, so maybe she's not a GOOD transcriptionist.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

I knew a lady that learned while she earned for their family physician. She got in on the ground floor when he was new and stayed with that DR till her husband transfered to another area of TX. She was paid well, worked from home and had virtually no free time as his practice grew quite large. What began as a well paying job with freedom became a millstone as they didn't pay much more but her workload became more time consuming.

There is another lady in town that does that work also. I don't know where or how she trained but she has employees working for her. Apparently there is a demand but I agree, I would find the job or the guarantee of a job first.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

I have a friend who is a medical transcriptionist. She USED to make great money but the business appears to be phasing out somewhat due to other media now coming to the fore in many doctor's offices and hospitals, and she is getting paid less for the same work than she used to as well.

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Medical transcription is different from medical coding and billing. My sister-in-law and her daughter both do medical transcription at home. They did go thru formal study to learn the terminology. Both had administrative jobs in other fields but studied at home to acquire their certificates. And they've been doing transcription for 15 or so years now. They still make good money and still work at home.

Medical coding and billing is more technical than I could learn on my own. Since I've never worked in the medical field and can't work away from home at this time (I'm caregiver for my disabled mother), I'd need some formal training. There's a lot of legalities and medical terms to learn, human anatomy, physiology, insurance procedures, etc. I'd have to learn proper coding in order to get to the billing process.

Administrative work I've done. I worked for lawyers for years as office manager and legal transcriptionist (with no school training, just hands-on training). But in order to get skilled in coding and billing, I'd need to learn a lot that I don't already know. And $1,000 is not a bad investment for the knowledge. I spent $1,000's of dollars on a bachelor's degree that I never found a job for. In fact, after college, I went back to being a secretary--the same profession I had before and during college. Later, I got a job in construction, with no experience, and it paid twice as much as the secretarial job and I learned enough to build my own house.

I also live in a city filled with doctors, 2 hospitals, a rehab center, a cancer center, and many other medical facilities. And just two blocks from my house, I see they've started the groundwork for a new health center. So I feel pretty confident that I could get a job in my city if I learn the skills.

When I was dealing with UMA, my advisor called me everyday to see how the process was going. And it was a LOOOOOONG process. I spent many hours completing paperwork and preliminary "assignments" and orientation while we waited to see if I'd get the pell grant. (No one told me that I wouldn't qualify for it since I already have a bachelor's degree.) I talked to an advisor at Penn Foster last night and he said we could do the paperwork right then and in a few minutes I could begin classes. The UMA process seemed so lengthy and exaggerated, sort of a waste of time on a lot of details that I felt really weren't necessary. It just seemed to be one hoop after another to jump thru while the Penn Foster process seems like it will be quick--pay, sign some documents, and go to the online classroom.

Penn Foster said I could work at my own pace and even complete the course within 5 months if I work at it full-time. I can study, study, study for hours on end if I wish. As I understand it with UMA, I can study at my own pace to a degree. There are certain assignments that must be completed by each Sunday and I must log in a certain number of times each week. If I miss two weeks in a row, they can terminate my enrollment and keep the $14,500. I don't think I can complete two or three weeks of coursework in a week; I have to do this week's coursework this week and next week's coursework next week. At Penn, I can complete as much as I want this week; I can go slower or faster as I choose. Right now, since the weather is too cold for gardening, I'd want to do as much as I could now and then slow down when spring comes and I get back to my gardening projects.

Ecrane, you do offer a lot of great advice. Thank you so much for your input. I'll call around town in the next few days and see if I can find out where most billers around here get their education. From what I understand, once I complete the course, I'll have to go to some local facility and take a national test to become certified (Kind of like taking a CPA exam or bar exam). So I imagine most billers do get some formal training of some kind to prepare them for this exam.

Even if a certificate from Penn Foster doesn't mean much, I'll still have learned a lot and could decipher my own hospital bills. LOL $1,000 is not a bad investment for almost any education. Most of us waste more money than that on sodas, cigs, candy, etc. But I'm really thinking it could help secure my future. Almost every city needs medical billers. Every doctor, hospital, clinic, or medical facility needs one. And I could work for several at one time, working at home, at whatever pace I'm comfortable with. Can you tell I've almost talked myself into it? I discussed it with brother this morning and he thinks it's a great idea for a small investment of time and money.

I do have a friend who graduates from UMA in Mar and I'm anxiously waiting to see how she fares after graduation. She's supposed to keep me posted. She's loving the classes and is breezing right thru them.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

I misread your original post. Medical coding and billing was recently recommended to me by a friend as well.

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Dutchlady, is your friend enrolled in a medical coding/billing class? Or does she work in the field? Did you get any info from her? I'd really love to hear personal experiences in this field.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

She is an ER nurse.

Fairfield County, CT(Zone 6b)

The Community College I work at gives classes in medical coding and billing and tuition is $79 a unit. Ask both school for the names of former student that you can call for references. Ask local doctors office staff about the schools - they may have some insight for you.
edited to include - look on-line for jobs and see what the employers are looking for in terms of qualifications.

This message was edited Feb 23, 2010 11:52 AM

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

How many units must a student complete to obtain a diploma, YankeeCat? Some places offer individual classes, so you can take just what you need (which is helpful if you're already in the medical field), or you can take the whole program, which is what I'm interested in since I know nothing of medical terminology, anatomy, insurance, etc as well as the billing/coding. And does your community college offer online programs?

Fairfield County, CT(Zone 6b)

Here is a link to the college There are calsses on-line - but I'm not sure if medical billing is on-line. You could check around at community colleges in your area to see if they give classes.

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

The college in my area doesn't offer classes in medical coding/billing.

Thanks for the link; I'll check it out. I've been busy researching for schools and have found another one that is even cheaper than Penn Foster. I'd have to take individual classes for Anatomy, Medical Terminology, and Coding/billing. Each class is $100. When I pass them all, then I take the Professional Coders exam at a nearby testing site for $300. No matter which school I attend, I'll still have to pay the $300 for that final exam.

I beginning to think these more expensive schools are just in it for the money. Of course, they have the staff to sit and hold your hand while you go thru everything. But I'm pretty independent and prefer to do it on my own. I don't usually need much assistance, and all the places seem to have a student assistance dept. So I'm going to keep researching and see what I come up with. I've already saved myself around $15,000 just in 24 hours! LOL

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

I checked out your school, Yankeecat. I didn't see medical coding/billing offered there, just medical assistant and medical office management and neither of those are technical enough for coding/billing. Maybe I missed the coding/billing somewhere?

There are so many classes I'd be interested in taking online. I might just surf around and see what all interests me. I love learning!

Cuyahoga Falls, OH(Zone 5a)

Just a thought - be sure the school you go to is accredited. Technical schools without accreditation may cost less, but the diplomas, certifications or "degrees" aren't as acceptable in the job market. Also, if you decide to go for higher education, the credits you earn at the non-accredited schools are usually not transferable.

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Both schools say they're accredited, each by a different organization. Penn Foster has two accreditations. UMA has only one, but they claim it's the best accreditation. At least that's the pitch they gave me yesterday when I informed them I was looking into Penn, which is $13,500 cheaper than they are.

They also tried to convince me that I wasn't getting the whole course at Penn, that once I finished these classes, I'd have to take more and more to get my certification. I told them that's not what the course syllabus says; the curriculum for the Penn course is almost identical to the curriculum at UMA. I was informed that of course they're not going to tell me up front that I'll have to keep piling on classes; they'll lure me in with cheap classes and I will have to keep paying to get all the education. But I'm not stupid; I compared classes, read their catalogs, etc. The two courses are very similar. What I want is the knowledge and it looks like both schools offer it. But for one school, I'd have to take out a huge loan to get the knowledge.

I've found individual classes for $100 each and I buy my books. It looks like I'd need at least 4 of the individual classes and possibly more. So I'm still researching. I think I'll probably go with Penn Foster. In comparing other schools, the average price range is $2000 - $3000 for the whole course. It was actually someone in admissions at another university who recommended Penn Foster. I wanted to enroll with this particular university, but they didn't offer online classes, only campus classes. So they suggested Penn Foster.

Cuyahoga Falls, OH(Zone 5a)

Excellent ! Good luck to you.

Moss Point, MS(Zone 8b)

If you have to buy any textbooks, halfcom which is part of Ebay often has great deals on used ones.

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

I have bought all my DS's textbooks for the past three and a half years of college on I figure I have saved about half...

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

If I go with Penn Foster, everything will be supplied. I'm thinking that's who I'll go with. I can get the entire course and all class materials for under $1000. It's also more well known than the other sites. I'm still mulling it over and doing more research. I want to be sure this is what I want to do. There's a lot of technical stuff I'd have to learn--anatomy, medical terminology, disease, pharmaceutical info, how different insurance companies work, medical legal policies, etc. I'd have to know all that before I even get to coding and billing.

Right now, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with it all. Much of it would be memorization and I'm not sure my brain works that well anymore. It would definitely be challenging, which I like, but I wonder would I get bored quickly with it. And then there are the ever-changing insurance procedures and all the new drugs, medical procedures and diseases that I'd have to keep learning for as long as I'm in the career. I'm more of a creative person than a technical one, so I am wondering if I would even like it. I want to be sure before I invest in it.

I love learning and I love the prospect of taking online classes, so I'm looking around to see what other programs are out there that might suit my personality.

springfield area, MO(Zone 5b)

If you personally know someone in the field that you could talk to, I would ask them if there is a a particular school or course of study that they prefer to hire from. So for example, if Company A said 'oh, yeah, we are familiar with School 1 and we don't care for the students that come out of their programs, they aren't knowledgeable enough' or whatever. There may be certain schools in the area that the hospitals have favor with. Some programs will also help you find a job when you complete the course.

Cuyahoga Falls, OH(Zone 5a)

ButterflyChaser - I don't know how old you are, but I am sure your brain still works just fine. I was 35 years old when I went back to school to become a nurse. Best decision I ever made. I'm sure you will make the right decision.

Phoenix, AZ

BC, you should read this before handing your money over to either of these schools. I agree with those who have advised against paying for career training at private schools. You often find that the money spent has been for nothing when it comes to getting a job.

There's also a lot of info here:

Here's another question: If you must do distance learning because you're caring for your mom, how will you leave home to work in a health care setting?

Phoenix, AZ

Here's some more info I found. If you've seen it already, pardon me.

I was hoping I could find the correspondence I had with a friend a few years ago. She spent $20,000 for her son's 'diploma' at a private school in New York - only to find that it was completely worthless.

Now, I want to say this: Don't ever believe you can't do something if you really want to - and if * it * is * right * for * you. I don't know how old you are, but I'm past SS retirement age and I went back to school in '08. Anatomy & physiology was challenging (to say the least), med term was easy once I got the hang of it and the dab of chemistry I got was really a kick in the pants. But I loved it all! I graduated from community college in massage therapy (4.0 gpa) and went on to school for nurse assistant. Tough, but it's a good fit for me and since I've worked in jobs I've hated, that's very important to me.

I hope I'm not meddling too much but there were some red flags here and I wanted to put my 2 cents in. ^_^

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Thanks for the info, Tomatofreak, I'll check out the links.

Unfortunately, at some point, I must go back to work. My mom is 80, in poor health. Obviously she won't last forever, so I want to plan for the day when she's gone and I'll want to work again. I also just love learning something new. I feel useless if I'm not always learning.

I'm definitely not handing over $15,000 to UMA. They call me almost everyday now. I keep telling them I'm not interested and I've compared and can get the same course for $1000 thru Penn Foster, hoping that will shut them up. But then someone else from UMA calls the next day. A lesson I've learned is if you can't find the info and tuition costs online without giving them your phone number, it's probably a scam. Penn Foster posts their catalog and tuition costs for all classes right there online for anyone to see. UMA does not. You have to fill out a form with your phone number and address so they can call you with their sales pitch.

I'm thinking long and hard about what I actually want to do. I enjoy bookkeeping, which is why I thought I might enjoy medical billing and coding. But I don't really think I want to take Human anatomy and medical terminology, etc. I'm thinking I should probably take some accounting classes. So I may study some bookkeeping courses and work on setting up a home business. I already do the bookkeeping and record keeping for my brother's rental business. But it's rather specialized with some great software. I'd think I'd enjoy learning more about bookkeeping, and I wouldn't mind paying for classes. I'll check with our local university to see if they offer online classes in bookkeeping now and what tuition would run. My niece, an accountant, is teaching online classes in Little Rock. Maybe I should take one of her classes. Wonder if she'd be extra hard on her Aunt Nancy?? LOL

I'm so proud of you, Tomatofreak, for going back to school and graduating!! You are an inspiration!! When I was in college years ago, one of my classmates was 70, the oldest in our class. She told us that she always wanted a college degree. She realized that every year she was getting older. She decided she could keep getting older, OR she could get older while working towards that degree. She graduated with her Bachelors at the same time I did and was as happy as a lark!

Thanks again for all the input. I still have my money in the bank for now. I hate that I wasted a $25 application fee with UMA. That should have told me something wasn't right, if you have to pay $25 just to see if you can enroll. I was just so eager to get right to the learning process. I guess I've learned a valuable lesson for a mere $25, huh?

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

I've managed to find some FREE online accounting classes or tutorials. FREE is better than $1000, right? I think I'll tour the internet and see what other free classes I can take and just study everything that interests. I'd like to learn website design as well. I do have some website experience, but I'm definitely very amateurish. I bet I can find online classes for that too.

I think instead of spending my money, I'll just work with these free online accounting classes for now. I could eventually advertise to do bookkeeping at home for small businesses. I've been doing it for my brother for years but I'd need more education for other types of businesses.

Guess I just saved myself $1000. Hmmmm, now might be a good time to buy a new PC!! LOL

Phoenix, AZ

Did you know that youtube now has an education site? I've listened to a couple of very interesting lectures there.

And the AARP bulletin has this article on free education.

I think I will have to be learning something new from now on; otherwise my brain goes to mush!

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Oh cool!! Thank you! I will check those sites out and see what all I can learn. I love to learn too, and now that we've found some free online classes, I think we've just opened a whole new world for me.

I love the internet and have used it for years to learn about anything that interests me. I even found some free online painting classes. This is just tooooooo fun!!

Raeford, NC

Butterfly I have heard Penn is pretty good.And if you have to take state boards to get your license, that is what whoever hires you looks at. That score. So I would probably go with Penn if you decide to do it. But have fun with your freebies until you are ready.deanna

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Well, I think I've decided not to do the medical coding, at least not right now. I want to focus on my gardens and get them squared away and it's now warm enough. So come fall, I'll reconsider my options.

Interestingly, a Freecycler just offered up all of her medical transcription books, CDs, flash cards and other materials from when she took the medical transcription course. Much of the information is the same stuff I'd be studying for medical transcription (human anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, drugs, diseases, medical procedures, etc.). I thought I could go thru these materials and see if it interests me. If it holds my attention, I may go ahead with the medical coding class this fall.

I just really need to learn something new and find a focus for a future career. My gardens are almost done and I need some new and interesting challenge.

Thanks for all the input! You guys are a wealth of info.


Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

Your gardens 'are almost done'?? Gardens are NEVER done..... ^_^

Northeast, AR(Zone 7a)

Too true. I will always be changing something. But I mean the construction of it is almost done. My whole yard is a garden, all the way around my house. This year I'm focusing on structures--arbors and gazebos and finishing my privacy fence. Then I'll redesign the gardens and be basically "finished". After that, it will just be maintenance and occasionally moving something. Hopefully it won't be the time-consuming labor-intensive project that it currently is. One day I hope to have time to sit on my porch and paint my gardens while drinking mint juleps. Wanna join me? LOL

Naples, FL(Zone 10a)

I'm so there.... ^_^

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