For-Profit Colleges Only a Con Man Could Love

Barbarians in the Ivory Tower

A four-year bachelor's degree in business from Indiana-based ITT Tech costs almost $89,000. That's more than twice the in-state tuition at the more venerated Indiana University.

Worse, subprime degrees from places like ITT and Full Sail are typically held in such low regard that it's difficult for grads to find jobs that pay enough to cover their loans. Nearly one in four for-profit students default on their loans within three years of leaving school, more than double the rate of public-school students.

But there's nothing like advertising to paper over your shortcomings. So for-profits carpet bomb the airwaves to make earning a degree seem as easy as downloading an app. Who hasn't seen those late-night TV ads for "college in your PJ's," or the Education Connection commercial featuring that rapping, dancing waitress? These ads drive viewers to websites that generate leads for schools' sales staffs, prompting an unending stream of solicitations. And when those leads are exhausted, schools buy lists from companies like QuinStreet, which made its name providing leads to subprime-mortgage brokers.

Barmak Nassirian, former official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers: “Overadvertise, oversell, overcharge, and underdeliver. They found a system where the pitch goes to one guy and the bill to someone else.”
Courtesy Barmak Nassirian
Barmak Nassirian, former official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers: “Overadvertise, oversell, overcharge, and underdeliver. They found a system where the pitch goes to one guy and the bill to someone else.”
Iraq-war veteran Chris Pantzke ran up $26,000 in debt and burned through an additional $65,000 of his GI Bill benefits with almost nothing to show for it at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
Courtesy Chris Pantzke
Iraq-war veteran Chris Pantzke ran up $26,000 in debt and burned through an additional $65,000 of his GI Bill benefits with almost nothing to show for it at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Last month, QuinStreet reached a settlement with attorneys general from 20 states, who'd accused it of fraud for operating gibill.com. The website was made to look as if it were run by the government to help veterans but was actually just a lead generator for for-profit colleges.

"The thing that made those lists valuable was the foreknowledge that these were people in dire straits, who were in over their heads and financially desperate, and therefore much more susceptible to a pitch out of the blue," Nassirian says.

The idea is to prey on people's hopes and desires, offering that yellow brick road to the American dream: an education and a better job. Workers are trained to identify emotional weaknesses and exploit them. That's undoubtedly what made Suzanne Lawrence an attractive hire at EDMC. She had a master's in psychology when she went to work for Argosy's online division in Pittsburgh.

"It was really funny because they used a lot of the same skills I was trained to use in grad school as therapeutic skills—like empathy and reflective listening—on the sales floor," Lawrence says. "It was evil and slimy. Your big job was to create trust, make them think you were their friend. The main goal in your first conversation was to find something they called 'the confirmed need,' which was the hot button you were going to push if that person tried to back out on you. Like, 'My dad wasn't really proud of me,' and that's what you write down. You keep that on your file, so when you call them, and they say 'I don't want to go,' you say: 'What about your dad? Don't you care about what he thinks anymore?'"

Lawrence worked with more than 2,000 others in a sea of cubicles and an auto dialer making 500 calls a day. The leads were generally so stale most calls were no-answers, hang-ups, or people screaming, "Stop fucking calling me!" Dry-erase scoreboards kept track of everyone's application numbers, horse-race style. Those who sold were loved. Those who didn't were berated, cajoled, and threatened, Lawrence says. Managers monitored calls and circled the cubicle bays encouraging workers to "always be closing."

The harsh, boiler-room atmosphere prompted her to make references to Glengarry Glen Ross. No one got it. They were too preoccupied with keeping their jobs.

The pressure prompted all sorts of illicit shenanigans, including falsifying documents, Lawrence says. Salespeople were coached to evade questions about cost and repeat the lie that "99 percent of our students don't pay anything out of pocket to go to school."

She was even instructed to sell online courses to people who didn't own computers. "Tell them to go to the library," her managers would say.

Military Disservice

Iraq-war veteran Chris Pantzke was discharged from the Army in 2006 after his convoy was hit by an IED. He suffered from a traumatic brain injury, along with post-traumatic stress disorder. The injuries left the former sergeant moody and anxious in closed spaces. Being in a classroom was out of the question.

But a saleswoman for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, also owned by EDMC, convinced him that her school's online photography program was perfect for his situation.

He immediately struggled, getting migraines from staring at his computer. "There would be several days I'd get up at roughly 8 a.m. and wouldn't go to bed until 4 a.m.," Pantzke says. "That's how bad it was, because I was falling so far behind." He punched a hole in the wall next to his laptop and "dishes took flight."

In one online class, the teacher didn't have Internet access for more than a third of the course. Only after pestering three different advisers was he finally put in touch with the school's disability-services office. But despite the recruiters' original promise of specialized help, the Art Institute balked at his request for additional tutoring.

Then Pantzke appeared on PBS's Frontline for a story about for-profit colleges. Shortly before the Frontline piece aired, a vice president contacted Pantzke and asked him to sign a release saying "that I was doing fine and things were going great."

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31 comments
royall.witt
royall.witt

I've seen people come into the banks with loans from these predatory colleges before I started BanksLoveMe.com.  I think it's mostly the commercial banks though, not the other banks we support.

cmschar2
cmschar2

@cellardoor You know what the problem is with your response? First you're wrong, second your vague and making statements that can easily be taken the wrong way and out of context and third you really showed how little you know about Education, Title IV regulations and loans in general

 

First, Every college has an age requirement and it's reflective of the compulsory age of the state. In Michigan, the compulsory age is 16 and even then you need to be signed out and reported as a high school drop out. So from ages 6 to 16 you must be in attendance at a legitimate public high school or participating in an approved alternative program or home school. That's the law, end of discussion and should you violate this law the department of social services will step in and enforce truancy laws and every higher education professional who has been trained properly- knows that.

 

Second the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid is just that an application. It takes your information and performs a series of tests that are associated with your name, age, citizenship status, social security number, income, assets and household size and performs a needs test to determine how much Federal Financial Aid you are eligible for. So that being said, please don't be the unfortuante person who thinks " FAFSA" is an actual entity giving you money, because it isn't. The FAFSA is the applicatio, the money comes from the government. But how could this student get the FAFSA done on his own? Several flags or C-codes would have been generated because he's too young to register for Selective Service.. he's not independant so his parents would have been required to complete the parent section of the FAFSA online, apply for a pin, and provide tax information. Did they? If so, don't you think maybe they should have stepped in for their 14 year old son? Tisk tisk no one wants to look at the overall picture they just want to blame one corrupt Admissions Rep who did something monumentally stupid. I'd like to listen to the call, because as you know all Admissions calls are recorded, whether you work at a for- profit or Harvard.

 

Third, it clearly states in this article that his loan money was returned to the Federal Government. I mean it says it so how can you say different? Hence why I pointed out that there was an error in the article and the moderator/author here needs to either confirm the facts ot correct himself. That kind of collection only happens on a Default from a federal student loan- period.

 

Fourth, even if you are correct that they kept a private loan from Sallie Mae, he's under 18 and when you are under 18 you cannot apply for a loan without a cosigner. So, who cosigned the loan? Why arent' they making a fuss? Hmm???? You pulled that information out of the sky and should really retract your statement because rumors are dangerous and make the job of every legitimate person working in for-profit that much harder.

 

Fifth, The maximum Pell grant is 5250.00 so even if you are applying to a non-profit university where the bill is just as high, that's not doing much for you. It doesn't matter if it's a for profit school. I mean how much is Northeastern? Harvard? Even Umass!!!

 

SIxth- Cash Rebates from lenders? Thank god!!! Your comment was vague and insulting to every person that worked hard to pay their loans on time and got a bonus  in the form of a reduced interest rate for that. But just so we are clear, Sallie Mae is just a servicer for the Direct Loan program run by the government, they are heavily regulated and aren't handing out checks. I mean the suggestion of that is pretty ridiculous! If you did get a check from the school it's because you overborrowed as the consumer. Yes that's right OVERBORROWED. You took more money than you needed and recieved a reimbursement check for that. The school can only hold on to those funds for 14 days and then it has to be returned to the student with a reimbursement letter that says these are from your loan funds. Many students do that to cover cost of living expenses, regardless fo their lender. It's a personal choice and it's the right of every borrower.

 

Seventh, Schools get students to sign up with Sallie Mae? There's only one lender available and that's Direct Loans. Now if the government chooses to assign your loans to Sallie Mae as your servicer and you don't want that, perhaps you can take that up with them. Because that's the source of all the rules, not the schools. When all the loan programs closed, there were no more options. You have no choice now but to go through direct lending and neither does the school. You think that's better? There were many lenders that offered great programs to borrowers like Sallie Mae and ASA so if you were pushed in that direction it's because you had more options available to you with that program. God forbid someone try and save you some money though..

 

I'd like to take a moment as well to clarify something else in this article about 90% of funds being taken from Federal funding. This is 100% true. But does anyone know why? It's because that's the federal requirement. Every for-profit school is required to maintain a 90/10 ration of funding. That regulation states that only 90% of incoming revenue can come from Federal Funding and 10% has to come from other. So if the Federal Funding goes up... and you can't meet that ratio? What do you do? You raise tuition. It's really the only option possible. Non-profit schools don't have to meet that requirement.

 

If you want to reflect on the cost of education.. do an overall reflection... Larger universities come with a hefty price tag as well... People are leaving those universities with huge amounts of debt also but no one talks about how many students graduate from Umass and struggle and don't get a job.. that's because regionally accredited schools don't have to report their placement rates.. but all nationally accredited schools need to place 70% of graduates in field. Know the facts, be an educated consumer and for once and for all know that the decisions of one person doesn't reflect the tone of the entire industry. There are several people..thousands even that truly care about the students. I consider myself one of them.

stkafferly
stkafferly

Do some fact checking before you write or publish an article. Ashford University is a not-for-profit school established in 1908 in Clinton, Iowa. They also do not, nor ever have offered any medical courses for doctors. Also, Ashford requires a prospective student to print out their financial aid agreement, sign it, make a color photo copy of ID or Drivers License and mail it back to the school before enrollment. Everything this story is talking about could not have possibly happened. I have research to back me up.

stkafferly
stkafferly

This article is completely FALSE. I did some fact checking, plus, I am a graduate of Ashford University. This university has been in existence since 1908 in Clinton, Iowa and is a NOT-FOR-PROFIT school. Also, Ashford does not offer ANY medical courses. There are also many other flaws to this article. I believe this article is a complete hoax. 

hammersmiller
hammersmiller

Geeze that kid needs a lawyer.  Nobody under the age of 18, unless they are court ordered (or by operation of law, like getting married), has the capacity to make contracts.

cmschar2
cmschar2

There's an error in this article. If his student loan debt was returned and he owed the college then there would be no body to garnish his wages or deny him an in school deferment. It also appears that he was under the compulsory age for his state so he merely needs to contact the Department of Education and file a complaint against Ashford.  That kind of collection effort with wage garnishment and deferment deinal only happens when you default on a federal student loan, not from a private party. How do I know? I've been a professional in Higher Education for the last 9 years.

danielmadridb
danielmadridb

Michelle Bachmann went to FLY BY NIGHT UNIV. She graduated before the newer laws; so she was able to dump her student loans through Bankruptcy. Later - as the Taliban Chasing Harpy/Harridan Rep. Michelle Bachmann she helped eliminate Student Loan Forgiveness and Student Loan Bankruptcy. How ver Christian of her.

Howdoyoulikethemapps
Howdoyoulikethemapps

Don't forget that one thing that's enabling this is that there is a huge oversupply of underemployed PhDs (such as myself) whose labor these companies are able to exploit cheaply.

jon.coumes
jon.coumes

Article excellent all over. Have to say though, Bobby Ruffin was a white kid in Birmingham, MI, which has excellent public schools in a totally different district than Detroit. Other than that, though...

PhillipO
PhillipO

The for-profit colleges account for only ~10% of college credits, ~25% of the student aid, but ~50% of the loan defaults!!!

 

As this article notes, these loan defaults are 'non-forgiveable'.   So, once a person has these debts on their credit record, they will never again be able to get a loan... and that may mean their dream of a college education will never be fulfilled.  And, that is simply inexcusable.

mitziwaltz
mitziwaltz

Reading this from the UK - where these vultures are circling around our once-proud state education system. I'd love to know which of our politicians they own (ours come cheaper than yours...)

ChandlerInLasVegas
ChandlerInLasVegas

prusin, how on earth do you come to that conclusion. This article is about private for profit schools. The government needs to be MORE involved with what you call interferance in education.

prusin
prusin

Another good reason to stop government interference in education at all levels. Thanks for the article VV. Great job, once again.

mr.smith
mr.smith

These schools should be closed down. I know all about. I worked for an EDMC school as an adjunct.

60% of the students were not ready for college. I had students with serious learning disabilities who were not capable of understanding the subject nor how to follow assignment directions.

The school has 10 week semesters and they design them so it's almost most fail and drop out. 

The CEO of EDMC was awarded a $600,000 bonus while people are racking up debt.

It's a scam, nothing more nor less.

 

The faculty at the school I worked at were good, frustrated and very well aware that the management was full of it. EDMC is huge scam, it needs to be closed down.

 

cellardoor
cellardoor

 @cmschar2  @cellardoor geez i still don't get the point of your rant. i never said the loan wasn't returned. geez i didn't say different. omg. get over yourself. the loan was returned, which is why the school sent the kid the bill. it's a bill for classes he has already taken, not a student loan, how can they and why would they defer that for him? yes, he could file a complaint, but what else can he do but pay it? 

 

i understand how inconceivable it is that he got the federal loan in the first place, i can't believe it myself. 

 

EDIT: i just realized you're probably responding to my first reply that i deleted a minute after posting. i forgot what i said, but as for sallie mae they do give cash bonuses to the school for every applicant they can get to sign up with sallie mae, i forgot the name of that program. it's legit and all but still shady. from my personal experience, the school financial aid department rep really did make it seem like the best loan out there when it was not. 

Hitchhiker
Hitchhiker

 @stkafferly

 Youre lying. Ashford is the alrgest holding of the for-profit company Bridgepoint Education.

Hitchhiker
Hitchhiker

 @stkafferly

 Hmmn. Kafferly Education Systems partners with Ashford in Florida. stkafferly makes numerous posts defending Ashford. Coincidence?

cellardoor
cellardoor

 @stkafferly geez, the kid said he wanted to be a doctor, the school rep said the school could be a stepping stone, a stepping stone. anyone can apply to medical school regardless of what they majored in. 

cellardoor
cellardoor

 @cmschar2  trhe article said the school 'could' garnish his wages, if they pulled enough strings i assume. also, they're not obligated to give him a deferment because it's not a student loan. 

AnonymousMeg
AnonymousMeg

I could be wrong but I'm thinking he's saying the interference in the first place- the federal money going to the for-profit schools that is to be paid back by people who probably can't do it- is what got us here. But you are right, they NEED to interfere now. It's like they interfered too much early in the process, and now they aren't doing anything at all.

mystermeat
mystermeat

 @mr.smith Sounds like the bulk of students at NYC community colleges, even NY state schools, who should definitely NOT be passing courses, but actually are receiving passing grades. Of course there are students who are doing good work and are smart people, yet the ideology of sending under-skilled kids through the education system to join a workforce that is already diminished is ludicrous and counterproductive. 

cmschar2
cmschar2

 @cellardoor Get over myself? Well don't make ridiculous claims.... and yes I replied to your first post that you must have deleted.. but you know that's not my fault However allow me to refresh your memory

 

 @cmschar2  his student loan debt wasn't returned, what was returned were the grants the school got from fafsa. so the school, who probably does not have an age minimum can still charge him for the year of classes he did take with them. if it's an accredited school it will definitely put a hold on him for registering anywhere. when applying for a pell grant you have to not be on probation or be in default on any loans. im guessing in a for profit school, grant money is not going to cover the full over-priced tuition, and he had to take out a private loan as well, one notorious private lender that offers cash bonuses to for-profit schools to get the student to sign up with them is sallie mae.

 

So now you're retracting what you said and saying something different.. so really I don't have to "get over myself" since everything I said is true. Sallie Mae is a servicer for the department of education. There are no cash bonuses to the school. However in the past there were services offered to the school like a client manager to handle escalated issues, they had client parties that schools were invited to, but nothing was shady about that.  It happens in every other area of business, people entertain clients. You can say what you want about it, but that's just how business is done, has been done and will continue to be done! Also every lender was doing it and at the end of the day.. the school regardless of perks or benefits recommended the lender that had the best benefits. Recieving actual cash from lenders was never allowed and now they are just a servicer so that's not even a consideration. The hard truth is, you're just upset that I actually work in the industry and know what I'm talking about and your posts are riddled with assumptions and misstatements. So I'm not going to tell you to "get over yourself" because in this country you and I can say whatever we want as long as it isn't offensive or you know untrue. So reply if you want but essentially, I'm just going to correct your horrid approach at commenting on something that you clearly have minimal knowledge about.

cmschar2
cmschar2

Like you said you're assuming. You're wrong and what strings, you sound ridiculous. Just get off your high horse and do some reading.

kneedeep
kneedeep

 @mystermeat Bull. Under-prepared kids in community college don't pass. They fail out and owe a few hundred dollars.

cmschar2
cmschar2

@ cellardoor It really depends on what you want to do and what programs you are looking for and how much you want to invest.  I would put a community college program for something technical first unless they don't have program available before any trade school if it was available and always.. always look for regional accreditation for anything academic or business based. Do you want an on ground program or online. It's hard to say which schools to avoid because individual situations like this make everything harder. If you want let me know what you are looking for and in what state and I'll make some suggestions. But other than that you just need to do thorough research and ask for the Gainful Employment statement of every school you apply for. It's like Carfax for colleges.

cellardoor
cellardoor

 @cmschar2  @cellardoor i'll be 18 in less than 2 years. you may be young but you sound a lot older. all i wanted was clarification of what you said about deferment. and it was not until now that you added there is nothing to defer. i deleted what i said about sallie mae initially because i realized it was heresay, my older brother said these schools get kickbacks which i assumed were cash payouts or something along that line and it didn't seem implausible to me. i visited one or two of these technical schools and it seemed all good to me except for this sense of urgency i kept getting from the recruiters. i felt the article explained it somewhat. 

 

not sure why you feel i need to know that federal financial aid comes from the government. i assumed anything 'federal' comes from the government. like when a friend says FAFSA money, i know they mean government money. we know it includes loans and grants and loans have to be paid back etc. schools always tell us this. 

 

i know you're looking at things on the whole, but for me i need specifics like which schools to avoid, not because of how much they take from the government but on the quality of the education/degree vs the total amount of debt i'll have. and i felt that this article helped steer me away from these accelerated for-profit schools, which i think was good advice. 

 

sorry if i offended you in anyway. i know now you're intentions were good. 

 

 

cmschar2
cmschar2

@cellardoor The evil side of the debate? I'm sorry I didn't know the debate was "evil." Predatory lending? I didn't know that anyone in the Direct Loan program which is run by the government was seeking out students especially since completing the FAFSA is an application for Federal Student Aid and not just grant assistance, but loan assistance as well. The problem is you're right you don't work in the industry but you're making statements nonetheless. You still ignored what I said about the FAFSA being an applicaiton and have failed to learn that Federal Financial Aid comes from the government. I'm not attacking you, I'm trying to educate you. It's not synonymous, it's wrong, you're statements are wrong! It makes it that much harder to keep explaining things to you when you say things like " the evil side of the debate" Do you know that non profit colleges don't pay taxes and for-profit colleges do? How does that make you feel? I feel the need to make distinctions because you, as an individual are making statements that are innacurate and ridiculous.

 

I am a professional and I am young as well. But to say a specific situation when you don't even have all the facts... is a scam well that proves that you'll believe anything you read. Must be true if it's on the internet in an article right? You're right the article does state that wages could be garnished but in your statement you took what you read from an article and said something completely different and now you're trying to redirect because you figured well I deleted that comment anyways.. tisk tisk there's a record of everything on the internet.

 

This article isn't helping you, half of it isn't even correct but go ahead believe everything you read. But be certain that you will in fact have to borrow loans to go to college and fall under the same situations as everyone else that wants a college education regardless of where you go to school. I criticized the article itself because it's wrong and people like you, that think you are being helped just believe it and form opionions and make statements that feed in to the histeria. It's so obscene.. Laws change every year, that's a fact but the overall issue of collection of private debt would be a huge change that would affect the entire world not just education. If that was the case then anything from credit cards, to cell phones and even public universities could be garnishing your wages. The people wouldn't stand for it. You want to talk about lobbying Congress? Why don't you talk to the administrators at UMass or Harvard. I never said he couldn't be denied a deferment. There's nothing to defer!!!! His loans were returned as stated in this article, if he really was billed directly from Ashford, they would have tried to collect for 120 days and then sold his account off to a collection agency who would have worked the account and it wouldn't have been able to be reported to his credit report because he's under 18. So really they just wanted the write off, I'm not saying it's right and clearly they messed up big time and are on heightened monitoring status because of it and probably going to close soon. But this article addresses the for-profit industry as a whole, not just Ashford. I wonder which schools are lobbying to keep the negative attention in this sector? I mean I don't think Ashford was trying to advertise that. You know these things happen at every University, no one talks about it when it happens at a larger non profit school that are taking hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. You think they aren't making money? They have a lot more money and power than the for profit sector ever will.

 

So to you I say this. Get the facts.. be an educated consumer and stop making assumptions based on article you read online. Every school is different regardless of their tax status.

cellardoor
cellardoor

 @cmschar2 seriously? yes, im not on the evil side of this debate, i dont know the inner-workings of predatory lending. you're going to attack me for not using correct terms? go ahead. so i said student loan debt wasn't returned, i meant whatever cost he incurred would still be there, it's a debt nonetheless. so i said what was returned were the grants he got from fafsa, instead of from filing with fafsa, which is synonymous, at least from a student's perspective, with government money. but you felt the need to make the distinction, whatever. 

 

yes,  im not a professional like you, i'm young, i want to go to college next year, i'm trying to be careful and not get involved with scams like these i'm being alerted to when researching my options. you on the other hand felt the need to criticize an article helping people like me. why? because the article said Ashford 'could' garnish wages, from which you took that it would? how do you know laws couldn't change in the near future? after all don't for-profits have insane amounts of money to spend on lobbying congress to their benefit? i replied to you because you clearly stated that the kid couldn't be denied deferment which was confusing to me because as i understood it deferment is only offered on student loans. 

 
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