Students at Keiser University's Lakeland campus say they're willing to pay a premium for an education at Keiser because they value its customer service, small classes and convenient schedules.
But they may not be aware how much of a premium they're paying. And some find out too late that the cost is painfully high.
Eric Dionne, 27, completed his associate's degree and is now working on his bachelor's in information technology. He said Keiser makes enrollment and financing your education much easier than community colleges, where students are expected to handle their own paperwork.
"At Keiser, they meet you at the door, then take you down to financial aid," said Dionne, who wasn't sure exactly how much he would owe upon graduation. "I just get as much help as I need to get where I want to go."
Rachel Lovell, 29, drives to Lakeland from Hudson to take classes at Keiser University because Pasco-Hernando Community College couldn't guarantee her a slot in its nursing program. Keiser would.
Lovell, a single parent who processed home equity loans during the real estate boom, said she figures her debt will be about $40,000 by the time she earns her R.N. degree.
"I'd rather see people take out loans for education than for swimming pools," she said. "I'll be able to make a difference."
Meneither Patterson, 36, now regrets opting for a one-year diploma in medical assisting from Keiser University over a less expensive community college program.
"It was easy to get into and faster," said Patterson, of Fort Pierce, who is repaying $9,000 in loans for the program she finished in 2004. "But when I got out, I felt a little bit like employers didn't buy the Keiser diploma. I'm working in the medical field, but not as a medical assistant. I tell people Keiser was way too expensive."
Brandon Allen, 25, completed the associate's program in video game design at Keiser's Fort Lauderdale campus in 2008. But he never got the diploma because he ran out of cash after exhausting his student borrowing. Allen is now more than $30,000 in debt.
"Unfortunately, I have not been able to get a job, so I can't pay on my loan," he said.
Sharon Luna is still hopeful. She graduated in January from Keiser College in Greenacres with an associate's degree in surgical technology. A mother of four who worked while in school as a McDonald's manager, Luna, 33, has had two interviews but no job offer yet. She owes $35,000 for her education.
"I'm not concerned about paying that back," said Luna, who said starting salaries for surgical techs range from $10 to $12 an hour. "God opened a door to go to school, so I know he's going to make a way."
Kris Hundley, Times staff writer