Ask Marcy and Jackie: Should I Cosign a Loan for Private Vocational School?

Each week Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz, educators with over 20 years of experience working with students from elementary to high school, will answer your questions regarding reading strategies, essay writing, homework habits and math challenges. Submit your questions to and include Ask Marcy and Jackie in the subject line.

Q: Never college bound, my teen is about to graduate high school. She says she wants to go to a pricey cooking school she saw advertised on television. I told her we couldn't afford the near $30,000 yearly tuition, so she said she would apply for loans for half the cost if we would subsidize the other half. Because she doesn't have a credit record, my husband and I would have to co-sign the loan. What do you think?

A: Bad move. Don't do it. Most vocational schools advertised on television are for-profit institutions more interested in making money than delivering a valuable education with currency in the workplace. Many of these for-profit trade schools cost a small fortune, but promise to help students secure affordable loans. These loans may be defrayed during school, but afterward the loan interest kicks in, jumping higher when payments are only one day late. Several of our colleagues are paying off private school loans to the tune of $700 a month. In their mid-30s or early 40s, living with their parents, they can't afford to live independently while paying student loan fees.

If your daughter falls behind on her student loan payments because she can't find a job or because her job pays less than what a high school dropout earns, who is the loan agency going to chase? You -- if you're the cosigner on the loan. If you can't afford to pay the interest, your paycheck will shrink each month as your wages are garnished.

Meanwhile, the government is pushing back.

The Consumer Protection Agency recently filed suit against ITT Education Services for encouraging students to take out high-interest loans on which they ultimately default. Additionally, the Obama administration is proposing new regulations for 2015 that would cut off federal funding for the worst performing private colleges.

Your daughter has options. Most cities have community colleges with culinary arts programs, some with innovative curriculum on organic food and urban farming. In California, where we live, almost half of our 112 community colleges offer programs in food preparation, pastry and basic cooking. Degrees from these two-year colleges are far more impressive to prospective employers than certificates from for-profit vocational schools.

While attending a community college program, your daughter could also apprentice an experienced chef at a favorite restaurant. She might start out prepping vegetables, yet end up running the kitchen one day.

Credentialed in both English and social science, Marcy Winograd now teaches special education students at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jackie Hirtz, MS Ed., a writer and writing coach, taught elementary school for seven years. Together, Marcy and Jackie have written for children's television, print, and new media. Their most recent project is the tween novel Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush, available on Amazon. They also blog at and tweet @tweenorama.