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"I Felt Like I Was Set Up to Fail"
January 26, 2014 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Inside a For-Profit College Nightmare (SLSalon)
posted by box (71 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I always figured that anything "for profit" in the education sector was somewhere in the spectrum of useless to outright-scams and everything I read about them makes that impression stronger.

To their credit, for-profit schools have expanded the level of access to higher education in our country.

Expanded access to education is a good thing, but I'm not sure this system is to anyone's credit at all in a positive way.
posted by ndfine at 7:20 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


The pull quote isn't actually from the woman whose experiences make up the bulk of the article. It's from this person, who the author was put in touch with by a nonprofit:

Another was accepted at for-profit Rasmussen College, even after he was turned down for entrance to a community college, when he submitted a high school diploma that he had purchased for $125 from Nation High School. He could barely type. He says he never passed an English class after fifth grade.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:21 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


For-profit education is the pay-day loan of higher education, except the taxpayers are footing the bill. We'd be better off shutting down their access to federal education money and using those funds to improve community colleges. Education is to important to leave to capitalists.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:25 AM on January 26 [71 favorites]


I'm interviewing for a nanny right now, and a surprising number are taking early childhood education classes online from these scammers. It's infuriating.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:27 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


For another in-depth (and highly critical) look into the for-profit college phenomenon, check out the Frontline documentary, College Inc.
posted by darkstar at 7:29 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]


I feel like one of the biggest lies for-profit online schools tell is that studying online is "convenient and easy for everyone."

In reality, it's harder for most students. To succeed, you've got to be a talented reader and a self-starter who is willing to teach yourself.

Most online learning still uses Stone Age technology and platforms... even in 2014, it's nothing but read-read-read. Having teacher videos, interactive content, web conferences, etc. is still a novelty, because these things aren't as cheap to produce as building what essentially is a forum that class participants post to.

And then, on top of that, you have the challenges that most first-time college students face- the fact that in most college environments, you won't get the hand-holding or support you got in high school.

So when I read another story about a person who has been lied to about how easy online classes are, it's sickening. Never mind the lies about loans or the true value of a degree from an online degree mill.

The tough part is that to oppose this nonsense, you have to be willing to step up and say that "with the state of our education system today, some people are not in a place where they have what it takes to succeed in college, and some people should stick to a cheaper community college program, or try vocational programs."

Not a very popular thing to say to tell Jaqueta that she has no business being in an online graphic design program, and that someone selling her that is a scammer.

So few people want to step in and do something about this crisis.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:34 AM on January 26 [26 favorites]


The problem could be that there are no gatekeepers in place.

Ya think?
posted by sweet mister at 7:37 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Expanded access to education is a good thing, but I'm not sure this system is to anyone's credit at all in a positive way.

I agree. "Expanding access" does not mean admitting anyone, maxing out their student loans, and then letting them fail out.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:41 AM on January 26 [16 favorites]


I think it'd be not only useful but essential to define what we mean by education before we decide that more of it is an unalloyed good. For-profit companies making bank on Pell Grant and other Title IV monies is not education.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:45 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


It's sad, the Art Institute used to be a real school that quite a few friends of mine graduated from and loved. But it's parent company EDMC went public and then got bought by Goldman-Sachs who have done their best to run it into the ground. This article has some details.
posted by octothorpe at 7:54 AM on January 26 [8 favorites]


We don't need to ban for-profit schools, we need to condition government grants and loans on students' demonstration of qualification for a program and a program's demonstration of successful job or graduate education placement which provide a fair return on tuition investment. Scams like this would vanish.

Honest for-profit schools can deliver as much or more bang for the taxpayer buck as community colleges, once you take into account the government budgets and tax exemptions that community colleges directly receive and for-profits do not.
posted by MattD at 7:58 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I come not to defend for-profit schools, but after spending six or so years working in higher ed, I feel like it's different levels of scam, with for-profit schools being the most obvious of scams
posted by angrycat at 8:06 AM on January 26 [14 favorites]


Honest for-profit schools can deliver as much or more bang for the taxpayer buck as community colleges, once you take into account the government budgets and tax exemptions that community colleges directly receive and for-profits do not.

Seconding this. It's really a matter of regulation. I attended a small, local for-profit school and had a pretty positive experience until the outfit was purchased by Kaplan ~2003. After that it was diploma mill-ville. My only stroke of luck was getting my sheet of paper before they put their name on the front of the building.

Admissions was always pretty sketch, but there were effective and knowledgeable instructors most of the time I was there.
posted by cellphone at 8:08 AM on January 26


From reading the article, the only problem I see coming from the school itself was that they withdrew Jaqueta without notifying her. The rest of it seems to be bad luck in Jaqueta's life: constant moves, having her laptop destroyed, not having consistent Internet access.

Even community college was a bust for her - the article talks about her not being able to attend classes because they kept being cancelled and she could not make up the work.

I'm not sure exactly what the problem is on the school's side, it's not like they destroyed her laptop for her or forced her to move?
posted by divabat at 8:12 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


Step 1: Make poor people feel bad for being poor.
Step 2: Implement scams and shady business practices to extract any money a poor person actually has when they try to overcome poverty.
Step 3: Profit! Loads and loads of profit.
Step 4: Move on to the next scam when the current one implodes.
posted by KGMoney at 8:14 AM on January 26 [19 favorites]


I'm interviewing for a nanny right now, and a surprising number are taking early childhood education classes online from these scammers. It's infuriating.

Are they by the school (written) or through the school (written by the state for state cert & CEUs)?

Former, crap. Latter, legit.
posted by tilde at 8:17 AM on January 26


My culinary degree is from a For Profit school. I knew it. I also knew that if I wanted to work seriously in the industry meaning that I was coming from a college graduate background that if I wanted am executive chef to take my career change seriously I needed to prove it... and it was going to cost me. Plus anyway, my fallback career was... engineering.

I ran a schedule and figured out what my income and long term school cost would be if I attended a four year BS, a 2 year ASSOC at J&W or the CIA, or a 48 week condensed ASSOC at the ACA. Already having a BS meant that I wasn't eligible for the same financial aid as the other kids, and realistically that meant that I had to keep the total cost low. $28K for 1 year vs. $22K for 2 years vs. $24K for up to 4 years. Even with crappy interest rates from Wachovia, the balloon of the 1 year ACA was far smaller than the other schools and unsubsidized loan portion wound up having less time to accrue.

As we ended our time at school, the administration came back to us with the 10 standard year repayment scheme, but then also with those 30 year consolidation loans. My classmates eagerly signed up for the reduced payments and I fielded calls for two years telling them to sod-off every time. In retrospect, I'm betting the for profit schools were likely also tied somehow into the consolidation firms - at least if I was crooked and slimy that's how I would swing it - maximize the loan from the government (hence the cost of one year), then roll another student's payment into financing the repayment of the government loan and collect 30 years worth of interest on the differential as well as build interest on the investment when you were holding the whole amount. You can't walk away from student debt. That means this is better than a repo-special at the used car dealership. You can garnish wages, hound and otherwise destroy the advancement of anyone who passes through your doors to ensure they repay you. The system does the mob work for them - minus the broken ankles.

I'll always wonder how many of my classmates paid off their loans within the original grace period, or hell which ones haven't defaulted on a portion of their consolidated loans. I keep in touch with a couple of them, and they've advanced far enough that it is likely they aren't feeling the payment scheme, but from experience - it is a hard road to get to where they are now.

I stated with a class of like 40 people. By the end there were 25. Those 15 took the cost of the school on the chin. I often wonder how they feel about their monthly reminder of a desire for a slightly better life that pays $12-$15 an hour until you find a job as a Sous Chef for $27K-$36K a year and 80 hours a week.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:26 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]


The solution needs to start with regulating the predatory fake schools. I'm willing to believe a for-profit educational institution could work (although it raises red flags over the traditional non-profit route). But these programs need to be much more closely watched to be sure they're providing the good they claim to. In the US, this oversight is supposed to be provided by the accreditation process. But it doesn't work very well, it's too slow, too lenient, and lacks enough power.

Astonishingly, a negative accreditation review actually is having teeth here in San Francisco, where the City College of San Francisco is about to lose its accreditation and be shut down. It's a fucking disaster; CCSF is by far our biggest community college (80,000 students), is a city-run non-profit, and does a lot of good in the community. Apparently it's also terribly managed, the accreditation committee found so much money being wasted on administrator salaries and non-educational stuff (along with other failures) that they seriously are going to shut it down. And that might be for the best. Predictably, the CCSF administration's response is to point fingers at the accreditation committee, and at the moment it's all on hold in court. Meantime the students suffer, either from a poorly run school or a cloud of uncertainty over their education or both.

One of San Francisco's biggest for-profit schools, the Academy of Art, is problematic too. It's accused of scamming federal dollars with recruiting abuses. They also own an enormous amount of property in San Francisco, somehow with some tax advantages, and there's a persistent complaint it's more of a real estate holding company than a school. OTOH I know a couple of people who've taken classes there and they felt they benefitted, so maybe it's not all bad.

Education is such a valuable part of society, one of the best ways we can improve the lives of everyone. It's disgusting to see predators pretending to be educators while really working to enrich themselves.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


When I taught high school, I used to rail against these scams, because my students were the targets.

So many figured that they'd be going to college, just assumed that it was going to be there for them. But they had NO idea about how it actually worked. I remember talking to a class and asking, "So what GPA do you need to get into a state school?" And having them all tell me variations of, "As long as I graduate, I'm in."

I actually brought in the admissions information and showed them what they'd need, and even so, they decided that it wasn't true, 'for them.' "I'll be on a sports team, I'll be the exception."

I'm not even going to get into the whole, "College Education = Good Job automatically."

I gave a lecture one time that was basically, "Get a job with a reputable company, doesn't matter what, mail room, customer service, then let THEM pay for school."

So many of the kids, and their parents want to believe the myths, so much so that actual evidence to the contrary is pooh-poohed.

There is also so much magical thinking involved, especially among students who don't really understand how the whole system works.

"I'm homeless, but the school is making it so easy for me, look they gave me a computer. I have kids, and no car, but I can take the bus to my job and I'll find someone to watch my child."

It makes me sad that as savvy as some of these folks are at working AFDC, WIC, Section 8 and SNAP, that they don't extend that to how to climb out of institutional poverty by properly using educational programs.

I wish I had a nickel for everyone I know who bought a car with their student loan money. From a "Buy here, Pay here, bullshit car lot."

Anyone with me on adding a "Economics of Real Life" class to the mandatory high school curriculum?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:34 AM on January 26 [31 favorites]


Nelson: In the US, this oversight is supposed to be provided by the accreditation process. But it doesn't work very well, it's too slow, too lenient, and lacks enough power.

In the College, Inc Frontline piece that darkstar links to above, accreditations were transferable. For-profit operators swooped in on struggling small private colleges, buying them out of financial trouble in exchange for their name and sweet accreditation papers so that they could tap federal financial aid from yet another source.
posted by dr_dank at 8:43 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]


For profit education does not work because education, by its very nature, is not a business or a marketplace. Educational institutions inherently have three groups to whom they are accountable: (a) current students who are receiving their education at the institution, (b) former students who were granted degrees by the institution, and (c) the society in which the institution exists. The obligations that educational institutions have to these three groups conflict, mostly to the detriment of current students.

Educational institutions have an obligation to the larger society, which includes businesses, professional organizations, and consumers, to ensure that students receiving their degrees possess the knowledge and skills that the institution's degree signifies they possess. Educational institutions have a similar obligation to alumni holding their degrees to ensure that the degree their alumni possess retains its value as a signifier of an individual possessing the skills supposedly learned at the institution. As a result, educational institutions assign grades and don't automatically hand out degrees simply for attendance.

While it is understandable why educational institutions do this, I would challenge anyone to name any other commercial transaction outside of a casino (which used to be illegal) where paying money for a product or service does not guarantee receipt of that service. Individuals attending for profit colleges, and really most institutions of higher education, do so because they want to advance in their careers. The degree is a means to do so. Taking out loans to "buy" an education thus constitutes a risk; a risk that becomes ever risker the more poor and vulnerable an individual is.

In addition, the usual mechanisms of competition that promote efficiency in markets don't work in education for similar reasons to why the don't work in health care. Prospective students have not real way ahead of time of gauging the quality of the degree they are buying. Further, there as yet no real way for quality educational "products" to supplement inferior educational "products". Finally, the continued need for students to get degrees from institutions of higher education in order to get jobs that used to require a high school diploma or less ensures a constant demand similar to the constant demand for health care. The market for education is and always will be a "sellers" market.

To all that, I should add one final, and perhaps most important point: To the three groups mentioned above to which educational institutions have obligations for profit education adds a fourth: investors. This final group cares nothing for alumni, society, or the current students. Because the usual market mechanisms whereby investors' interests are brought into alignment with those of consumers don't exist in education, there is no guarantee that the actions investors take to increase returns will be in the best interest of anyone but themselves. If that means skimping on resources dedicated to instruction to put money into marketing, then that is what will happen. More fundamentally, investors in for-profit education simply don't add any value to the overall enterprise of education because the usual market mechanisms through which capitalist activity promotes quality and innovation don't, and by definition cannot, exist in education.
posted by eagles123 at 8:57 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


In my mind, this all goes back to the idiotic move of walling-off student debt from bankruptcy discharge* Once that was done, it seemed like the flood gates were thrown wide-open for profiteers on both the financial and the edu sides. I mean..Hey! The kids have to pay us back!

If edu debt was as easily discharged as any other debt, the for-profits and lenders would definitely think twice before selling $40k in loans on some kid who barely managed a GED.

* Yes, yes...you can discharge edu debt in the case of proven hardship. But, this almost always has to involve serious medical issues. ymmv.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:59 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]


To their credit, for-profit schools have expanded the level of access to higher education in our country.

To their credit, 419 scams have expanded the level of access to financial opportunities in our country.

Mere access to something describing itself as higher education does not actually treat poverty, education, income equality, etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:01 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]


But I understand how it happens because I'm going to a community college in my state now and Jesus GOD is it a massive hassle to be a working person dealing with a colleague bureaucracy. For example, I've had to:

Drive in for placement testing and spend an afternoon hanging around while they got their shit together to do that. The actual test took 15 minutes.

Show up to a mandatory in-person orientation that was supposed to take one hour and took four to show us how to use a web browser.

Spend 6 months going back and forth with them to get them to evaluate my transcript so I could figure out what courses I needed to take which required constant campus visits during work hours to drop off paperwork and hassle people because phone calls and emails were ignored.

At every step of the way, be smugly told it was "my responsibility" to make them do their jobs. This included things like them letting the transcripts sit in the mailroom for months and refusing to accept them if they weren't mailed directly to them, so I had to pay for 6 copies of my transcript over time. They did eventually go and check the mailroom and OH YEAH THERE THEY ARE but I had to have an in-person meeting with the Dean to make that happen.

I'm lucky I work freelance so can disappear for an afternoon instead of an hour and it's not a huge deal but ironically if I'd been working the low wage retail job that community college could theoretically lift me out of, I'd have been fired for spending so much time dealing with the community college.

By contrast, for-profit schools aggressively pursue you, want you there instead of treating it like a hassle just to deal with you, and do at least make the effort to be semi-flexible for working adults. Obviously that's because they're trying to take your money but even so, after butting heads with mine for months to even get in the door and start taking classes, the University of Phoenix or whatever looked pretty tempting.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:04 AM on January 26 [24 favorites]



In my mind, this all goes back to the idiotic move of walling-off student debt from bankruptcy discharge*


It seems to me that the key would be linking some of that risk back to the schools, without doing so in a way that simply provides yet another incentive to not admit poor or at-risk students. The most important thing, of course, would be for the government to aggressively regulate the clearly scammy for-profit schools (the ones with poor graduation and employment rates, high loan defaults, and that are basically not providing a meaningful educational experience) but there is a lot of lobbying going on to prevent that.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:09 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Ghostride, I'd say that is the one major, extremely important benefit that has been introduced by for-profits. Their aggressive emphasis on customer service (at least in the initial, matriculation stage) has forced many non-profit and public institutions to get really serious about improving student services on the front end.

The "seamless student experience" in early advising/registration/enrollment is a movement in student affairs that wouldn't be nearly as well developed or as high a priority had it not been for the for-profits schooling us on how it can be done. (Our public institution has made huge strides forward in this regard in just the past 5 years.)
posted by darkstar at 9:13 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


I gave a lecture one time that was basically, "Get a job with a reputable company, doesn't matter what, mail room, customer service, then let THEM pay for school."

Are there many companies that still offer paid education benefits to low level employees? Paid MBAs and Masters of Teaching are common, but how often is that available to someone making $9/hour in the mailroom?
posted by Dip Flash at 9:21 AM on January 26 [9 favorites]


I should add that I'm not here to defend traditional "non-profit" higher ed. Sadly, the "like a business" mentality has penetrated those institutions as well. Education, like health care, should be paid for via taxes, well funded, and free at the point of service. That is how this country became prosperous, and we got to have nice things like the internet, Silicon Valley, and iPads. The move to transfer the burden of education onto students in the form of loans through defunding higher education that took place over the last thirty years, after an entire generation built their careers and prosperity on cheap, affordable, higher ed, constitutes a crime of one generation against another.

Darkstar -

Sadly, your institution doesn't have any incentives outside of non-market mechanisms to enforce accountability to improve any other aspects of the student experience beyond the initial "point of sale". You and Ghostride are talking about instances that are annoyances to an otherwise middle class person. I am talking about instances where poor people's lives are ruined by debt because they were lured into situations they never should have been in by institutions that had no incentive to help them out beyond facilitating their ability to take out loans and apply them to that institution.
posted by eagles123 at 9:23 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Yes, but what I was saying is that when I was a poor person working a low-paying retail job, wrestling with the bureaucracy of a traditional college wouldn't have been possible for me simply because I didn't have the schedule flexibility to do it. By contrast, for-profit colleges aggressively court people like poor-me and heavily push the seamless student experience that makes it possible to attend them. While I know that they are degree mills just out to take my money, were I less-aware of that, I would totally have been vulnerable to the same temptation myself: here's a road out of poverty to that college degree that's a ticket to a good job and they actually want to work with me and my schedule, why not trust the nice people from the school I saw on TV?

The reason for-profit schools even have the opportunity to prey on poor people besides the lax regulatory environment is because traditional education can be a monumental hassle for anyone that doesn't have a job that lets them go sit around waiting for people to get their shit together. Most of the college experience is still geared to largely jobless 18 year olds who can spend their summer running around doing stuff for the bureaucracy or spend an entire afternoon learning how to use a web browser.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:33 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


Why am I not surprised to see Goldman Sachs in the story? Collateralized home loans, for-profit education.

There seems to be a common thread of government regulations changed, people encouraged to take on more debt than they can handle, taking advantage of it to make lots of money, lots of suffering, and the government (meaning us) ends up responsible for the losses.
posted by eye of newt at 9:46 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Community colleges are pretty much a Hell of bad management, bad administration, and bad instructors (in many cases). For-profit schools are terrible, but community colleges generally have no accountability except to the local Board of Directors, which usually have all the problems of a small, unelected group with power in a vacuum. (Read: They pay more attention to which buildings will get their names than the success of the students, many of whom they write off as "idiots" anyway.)

If you want to fix the educational system, it's not just a question of getting rid of for-profits—you also need to make the community college "system" into something coherent and real, rather than the hideout of incompetents and castle-builders that it currently remains.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:48 AM on January 26


Community colleges are pretty much a Hell of bad management, bad administration, and bad instructors

There must be some like that, but the CCs I have experienced couldn't be more unlike your description.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:52 AM on January 26 [11 favorites]


I understand, and I definitely agree. Even back during the heyday of state subsidized higher ed, students at California public universities protested unresponsive bureaucracies by mocking the "don't bend, fold, or mutilate" warning printed on their id cards. I also think the adjustment to having more adult learners is definitely something that higher ed needs to make, although I have to say it seems like schools in my area at all levels seem to have made strides in this direction. At the moment there are a lot of anecdotes floating around this thread. My experience as a non-traditional student was not nearly as bad as yours. In fact, I would say I was generally quite satisfied all things considered.

The problem is that as a society, our solution to these problems always seems to be "turn it over to the market", as if the powers of the "market" are a magical cure all for every problem. For the reasons I outlined here, "the marketplace" cannot be a solution; it just creates even bigger problems. The solution, I think, is to actually invest in a robust system of higher education as a society like we used to have.
posted by eagles123 at 9:58 AM on January 26


i read the post and comments and i'm like, "You need the Open University", they are amazing, even their financial side. But the tories went and cut them heavily - postgrad's been slaughtered, don't know about the undergrad and lead-in courses (highly recommend for people who've been out of education for a while). Lots of overpriced taster courses aimed at rich retirees now:(
posted by maiamaia at 9:58 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Exactly how a community college is run and who oversees it varies hugely, primarily by state. In Georgia, we have a technical college system run by the state board of education and community colleges that are part of the University System of Georgia. None of them are in any way awful, all of them have a lot of oversight, and as a faculty member of an open-access 4-year college, I find it laughable that anyone complain about the quality of instruction at our schools. The faculty at our teaching colleges are devoted to teaching, love it, and care a lot about it. This is in contrast to the faculty at major research institutions who are by definition not devoted to teaching and (obviously) the faculty at for-profit colleges who are frequently not qualified to teach at a non-profit school.

For that matter, I moved here from Durham, NC and am quite familiar with Durham Tech (in NC, community colleges and technical colleges are part of a single system, managed by a separate state agency from the University of North Carolina System). Yes, its campus is old, but I knew students who completed 2 years there who transferred to UNC, NC State, NC Central, and Duke and did well at those schools.

My school is $1700 per semester. All of our classes are under 30 students. We offer evening and weekend classes. We have had many, many students begin in remedial or English language-learning classes and go on to graduate and be successful. As a builder of opportunity, I would hold our campus up against any non-profit, and I think it's preposterous to even compare us to for-profits. Our product is education and successful students. Their product is making money for their stockholders.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:03 AM on January 26 [16 favorites]


sonic meat machine: Community colleges are pretty much a Hell of bad management, bad administration, and bad instructors (in many cases).

That certainly doesn't reflect my experiences. I've gone to one community college and two state schools, and the community college was as well run and professional as the others (and they all seemed pretty well run). I had a really good experience with it, and at no point did I feel like meaningless barriers were thrown up in front of me due to mismanagement or lack of focus on the educational mission.

Maybe the one I went to was better than most, since it was in Wyoming, which is rolling in mineral wealth and where community colleges are more important due to the lack of access to four-year universities in most locations. However, most of the students I have talked to who went to other community colleges speak of them in a positive manner.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:04 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


Are there many companies that still offer paid education benefits to low level employees? Paid MBAs and Masters of Teaching are common, but how often is that available to someone making $9/hour in the mailroom?
I was very fortunate to work for a company that did just this...but that was back in the late 1970s. At age 17 I was a Telex operator, filled in for the switchboard operator and also did grunt clerical work for the advertising department. But I was afforded the same opportunity as any other full-time employee: as long as your major applied somehow to your job (even tangentially), the company paid for your tuition, books, labs, everything. The downside was that you had to work full-time and go to school in the evenings. That's why it took me almost seven years to get a four-year degree.

But I'm guessing that today, when health benefits are considered a "plus", not many companies offer such generation education packages anymore.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:07 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


> ... In retrospect, I'm betting the for profit schools were likely also tied somehow into the consolidation firms - at least if I was crooked and slimy that's how I would swing it - maximize the loan from the government (hence the cost of one year), then roll another student's payment into financing the repayment of the government loan and collect 30 years worth of interest on the differential as well as build interest on the investment when you were holding the whole amount. You can't walk away from student debt. That means this is better than a repo-special at the used car dealership. You can garnish wages, hound and otherwise destroy the advancement of anyone who passes through your doors to ensure they repay you. The system does the mob work for them - minus the broken ankles. ...

You have caused the scales to fall from my eyes, Nanukthedog.

The primary product of these schools is not education, it's debt-- largely very secure government backed debt which can be repackaged and sold just as mortgages were, but with many advantages over mortgages such as more complete government backing and the fact that it can't be walked away from.
posted by jamjam at 10:08 AM on January 26 [24 favorites]


I could be prejudiced by the community colleges I've worked at (and with). By no means am I saying that there weren't good people there—but on the whole it seemed impossible to ever be fired. There were staff members who never seemed to do anything, politics around who got VP and Dean positions, inscrutably bad hires in positions that needed specialist skills, and a generally dismissive attitude toward the students. There was a lot of inherent racism, class discrimination, and an attitude that most of the students were there to collect the check from their Pell grant. It was easy to understand how people would fall out of it and into a for-profit system. Sadly, I think the best non-traditional and minority students, the most motivated, were the most likely victims of this.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:09 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I have to say that while I myself didn't attend a community college as a non-traditional student, I know many friends and family members who did. Non of them reported bad experiences, and all seem to have been satisfied with their education. I myself took classes in at two different traditional institutions of higher education as an adult learner. I had good experiences with both. Also, it seems like most of the institutions of higher education in my area have programs dedicated to adult learners, and they aggressively advertise this fact. To provide some context: I lived in eastern Pennsylvania at the time, as did my friends and family who attended community colleges.
posted by eagles123 at 10:11 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


From reading the article, the only problem I see coming from the school itself was that they withdrew Jaqueta without notifying her. The rest of it seems to be bad luck in Jaqueta's life: constant moves, having her laptop destroyed, not having consistent Internet access.

Even community college was a bust for her - the article talks about her not being able to attend classes because they kept being cancelled and she could not make up the work.

I'm not sure exactly what the problem is on the school's side, it's not like they destroyed her laptop for her or forced her to move?


The problem is that they should not have sold her these programs in the first place. Art Institute especially should not have signed her up, after hearing that: How many more red flags does a recruiter need to know that it is predatory to sign this person up for piles of loans? The sad reality, actually, is that the recruiter has no interest in finding out a lot of this information.

It's just purely getting them to sign on the line which is dotted... always be closing. Convince them their lives are crappy now without school, convince them they are guaranteed lots of money after they graduate, redirect them when they start to ask tough questions about loans and success rates, get as much money out of them as possible.

No- the school is not directly at fault for the wider societal problems that Ms. Cherry was facing. But by ignoring red flags that screamed "this person will not be able to handle this, and you're just going to be stealing her money," that's what they did wrong here.
posted by Old Man McKay at 10:13 AM on January 26 [9 favorites]


I agree. "Expanding access" does not mean admitting anyone, maxing out their student loans, and then letting them fail out.

Except that this isn't quite what is happening. The average dropout happens at the four month mark, long before student loans would be maxed.

This all seems closer to the standard health club model: do whatever it takes to get initiation fees and rely on the fact that only 10% of people will be there for the long run.

With an added process to streamline borrowing those fees of course....
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:15 AM on January 26


I've been pretty happy with our local Community College. My son got half of his degree there before transferring to a university and he felt like he got a good education for a seriously bargain price. It was a good stepping stone for him since he's very smart but didn't do that well in high-school and needed to be able to test the waters before diving in completely.
posted by octothorpe at 10:51 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Here in Canada, we have robust accreditation, and most kids attending regular high schools are exposed to at least some decent information. Most wind up going to accredited institutions, among which there isn’t anywhere near as much variability in quality as in the US. (Here, the difference between colleges & universities is that colleges offer applied/vocational training; colleges are also well-respected, and employers often prefer their graduates to BA/BSc-holders with no additional training.)

But we also have private colleges, and while they’re not in the mainstream at all, many are popular with first-generation students from both immigrant and historically Canadian families. These colleges’ programs are often triple the cost of accredited ones, but they’re appealing to students because they take half the time. E.g. six months for a ‘physiotherapy assistant’ program that is recognized by nobody anywhere, vs. 2 years at an accredited college. Sounds good to the kids. Except no one will hire a PTA from an unaccredited program, obviously. Few of these kids, or their parents, even think to ask whether such programs are recognized by the relevant professional organizations.

Alongside muscular accreditation (and litigation, when it comes to it), there has to be an organized effort, at the secondary school level, to equip students – and their parents – with the critical skills to evaluate post-secondary options. Print material in the most-represented languages, special PTA meetings, at least one unit embedded in a compulsory course for the kids. It amounts to negligence not to address this.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:02 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


How many more red flags does a recruiter need to know that it is predatory to sign this person up for piles of loans?

Spot on. Although rather than ignoring red flags, they're actually looking for them:
CCI is selling these expensive programs to students throughout California, many of whom head single parent families and have annual incomes that are near the federal poverty level ($19,530 for a three-person household). CCI targets this demographic, which it describes in internal company documents as composed of “isolated,” “impatient” individuals with “low self-esteem,” who have “few people in their lives that care about them,” and who are “stuck” and “unable to see and plan well for the future,” through aggressive and persistent internet and telemarketing campaigns and through television ads on daytime shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich.
This part struck me because it describes me pretty much exactly at the time University of Phoenix first called me in December 2007. I had recently earned a high school diploma after dropping out eight years before. The recruiter who called me acted like my best friend. We talked for hours. I couldn't believe it could be that easy to get into college because every time I'd ever looked into it the application process seemed so daunting and expensive and I never heard back from my local community college (Philadelphia, although I think they've changed since then and become more competitive or maybe that's wishful thinking).

I know what it is to be isolated, poor, feel stuck and "impatient" with long-term plans that can be easily destroyed by the constant crises which are a regular part of life when you're in a certain strata. School has consistently been a source of failure and exclusion. And then someone calls you and talks like a friend, caring about your life and understanding your struggles (because in many cases these recruiters are former students themselves as was the case with mine), then keeping in contact and offering to make everything a breeze. And it was a breeze for me, at first. I had regular internet access and I loved to read and write, so the writing-intense online programs worked for me up through the associate's and bachelor's degrees (at a different for-profit, Ashford University). And now I'm pretty happy to be in a state non-profit online grad program, and even happier to be almost done.

But very few of my classmates made it.
posted by Danila at 11:17 AM on January 26 [12 favorites]


If the law required these schools to disclose how many of their enrolled students go on to graduate, how much debt they graduate with, and HOW MANY ACTUALLY FIND A JOB IN THE FIELD THEY TOOK ON ALL THAT DEBT TO STUDY...

But then, predators never like talking about blood and pain when schmoozing their prey.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:57 AM on January 26


So she's severely disadvantaged by a system that won't let you get out or advance without a degree, yet she should not be allowed access to.a degree because of those very disadvantages? What else is she supposed to do? Not everyone can fight the system.
posted by divabat at 12:09 PM on January 26


She should not be tricked into a system that will likely cost her more than she will ever get out of it. And no, no sole person should be responsible for fighting a system that is stacked against them. That's why we have consumer protection organizations, legislatures, activists, and the like. For-profit educational institutions that use tactics like the ones outlined by Danila are predatory machines designed only to squeeze every penny possible out of people they *know* can't fight the system.
posted by rtha at 12:19 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


I'm seeing a whole generation coming up spending $$$ on degrees and ending up pulling espresso.

For generations, a college degree has been that magical meal-ticket out of the lower class.

But then, people thought house prices would continue to go up forever, and that bubble burst HARD. The question issue I see isn't
should [she] not be allowed access to.a degree because of those very disadvantages
but rather
Why are we letting these fucking parasites scam both the taxpayer (who foots the bill) and the students (who go into non-dischargeable debt-slavery & get nothing out the other end)
Everything is a ponzi scheme. Our entire economy is based on scams, BS, & churn, and the smart ones get in the way of the moving money and grab some before it all settles, while us rubes are left with the bill as well as the interest payments.

These are the fucking Wolves of Education Street.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:26 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


While it is understandable why educational institutions do this, I would challenge anyone to name any other commercial transaction outside of a casino (which used to be illegal) where paying money for a product or service does not guarantee receipt of that service.

I'm not 100% sure this is what you are doing, but I see this argument used a lot, and it is very very wrong. You do get the "service" you pay for in higher education (although it's a bad metaphor all around) -- you get access to the classes and programs. Your tuition does not guarantee you a degree; your work does that. If paying tuition was all that was required for graduation, diplomas would be worthless.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:35 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Couldn't thise be easily fixed by paying the college a portion of the loan to cover operating expenses and then only pay the full amount on student graduation. If the college needs the money up front they can take a loan from a private bank with the outstanding amount owed as collateral. I bet they'd suddenly be more careful of who they enroll.
posted by PenDevil at 12:46 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Couldn't thise be easily fixed by paying the college a portion of the loan to cover operating expenses and then only pay the full amount on student graduation.

Well, the problem is that students don't graduate for all sorts of reasons -- illness, death, changes in majors that extend the graduation process by years -- and giving banks a way into yet another area of the economy doesn't sound like a good deal. You'd essentially be adding mandatory interest onto tuition, which would drive up costs.

And there'd be massive consequences. No one would enroll low-income students or students with health and mental health issues, since they often struggle to finish on time as it is....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:53 PM on January 26


Why does the Salon article read like an ad for the status quo?
posted by telstar at 12:57 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


If the law required these schools to disclose how many of their enrolled students go on to graduate, how much debt they graduate with, and HOW MANY ACTUALLY FIND A JOB IN THE FIELD THEY TOOK ON ALL THAT DEBT TO STUDY...

IMHO, this should be required of all schools. I've heard that low-prestige non-profit law schools have serious problems in these areas too. For-profit schools are ethically-challenged vultures, but many of the problems with them aren't unique to them in the world of higher education.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:08 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


The Department of Education is going to release new proposed rules regulating for-profit colleges some time this year, most likely. They lost the last attempt to regulate the industry after the for-profits sued and won.

Anyone who cares about this issue should stay tuned - you can submit your comments to the Department of Education when the time comes.
posted by yarly at 2:11 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


You have caused the scales to fall from my eyes, Nanukthedog.

The primary product of these schools is not education, it's debt


I felt the same way reading the article and the comments in this thread. Debt is the piston driving the economy, in so many ways - subprime mortgages to people who can't afford them, student loans to people who can't afford them and who aren't in any position to be able to finish school, consumer credit at ridiculous interest rates to anyone with a pulse, medical debt for anyone without insurance. We're back to usury, multigenerational debt (in the case of 18-year olds who have family members cosign their student loans and then default), and subsistence employment that looks suspiciously like indentured servitude or serfdom. The more glimpses I get of how all the pieces interlock, the more chilling it is.
posted by Ouisch at 2:14 PM on January 26 [10 favorites]


I don't know now anyone manages to navigate the labyrinth that is US post-secondary education. For a country that seems to regulate anything and everything to death, the idea that something as important as such a major component of education doesn't need to be directly regulated is so far beyond my grasp that I don't even know where to start.
that I work as a regulator of post-secondary education in another country in no way makes me biased ;-)
posted by dg at 2:16 PM on January 26


I owe my career to a for-profit vocational program. Most of the people I went to school with can say the same thing.

I recognize that my experience is probably atypical, and there are many abuses in the system, but I've seen first hand that for-profit education can be a good thing when done right. FWIW I think the industry needs much stricter regulation and oversight.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 2:51 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I owe my career to a for-profit vocational program.

Good point, me (almost) too for my first and second careers. Was just chatting about this with colleagues the other day. They were going to go to vocational training post high school (got degrees instead), and I got mine in a private non-profit high school.
posted by tilde at 4:25 PM on January 26


I don't know now anyone manages to navigate the labyrinth that is US post-secondary education. For a country that seems to regulate anything and everything to death, the idea that something as important as such a major component of education doesn't need to be directly regulated is so far beyond my grasp that I don't even know where to start.
that I work as a regulator of post-secondary education in another country in no way makes me biased ;-)
posted by dg at 2:16 PM on January 26 [+] [!]


Australia, right? The "Australian Model" of higher education financing (paying a percentage of your future income instead of fully amortizing a loan) is actually a bit in vogue now among some American higher ed contingents. I have my doubts about whether they could actually do this correctly in the U.S. And going back to the topic of this post, if there is no quality control in the underlying schools, then even a more generous loan repayment system will fail to help. Because millions of students will still end up wasting their educational credit on crappy programs.
posted by yarly at 5:50 PM on January 26


Yeah, the lack of any real underlying quality control is the bit that puzzles me the most. The idea that I can just set up shop, call myself a college and start enrolling students is just weird to me. The idea that, by shopping around for the cheapest and easiest accreditation provider (themselves a private, for-profit organisation), get a tick and then attract public funding? Also weird. I can't even see how a potential student would figure their way through the maze of colleges, schools and universities that may or may not be accredited by an organisation that may or may not have any sort of rigour in their 'accreditation' process and that only makes a profit by giving out accreditation.

Also, it appears that somehow marketing companies have access to names and contact details of high school graduates? How does that happen?
posted by dg at 7:15 PM on January 26


I'm fine with articles slamming for-profit diploma factories, but for cryin' out loud, pick a better example than Jaquetta. The only thing she seems to have made a career out of is making every bad choice possible.
posted by prepmonkey at 6:16 AM on January 27


Isn't exploiting people usually about pushing them into making bad decisions, prepmonkey? Jaquetta, etc. appear remarkable unqualified students, which demonstrates that the schools interests lie purely in obtaining federal aid money, not educating anyone.

There are corporations that purchase or "partner" with accredited institutions, dg, actually obtaining an accreditation requires too much real investment. Just eyeballing the nslds.ed.gov's Cohort default rate (CDR) suggests that most state institutions remain under 3%, while legit private institutions usually remain under 7%, and for-profit places running 15% on up. We cannot so cleanly separate corrupt for-profits from incompetent non-profits by cutting off schools who exceed a fixed CDR, like say 15%, but.. We could maybe require that accreditation agencies reevaluate any school that exceeds a 15% CDR, ignoring the accreditation if they do not. Ain't so profitable to buy up a private collage for the accreditation if it gets yanked a couple years later.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:23 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I've had a lot of questionable jobs, but the one doing tech support for online classes at a for-profit college was the only one I've ever quit for ethical reasons. The better the job I did, the more I was helping those assholes take advantage of people who were already disadvantaged in a variety of ways. There were a handful of students who knew what they were getting into, and could make informed decisions about it all -- but they were exceptional.

It didn't do anybody but the investors much good for me to spend an hour on the phone getting a student's computer working sufficiently to get into their online classes if the student had literacy problems that could not be addressed through online education.

I will say in the school's favor that the course content itself wasn't bad, and if a student wasn't held back by computer literacy problems, regular literacy problems, learning disabilities, poor physical or mental health, family problems, or insufficient time to do the reading and coursework, I don't think that the outcomes would be all that different from those of students at a traditional community college. However, students in these categories are exactly the ones targeted by these for-profit schools. It's wrong, and it needs to stop, and we need to come up with more educational options that help these people in ways that don't just exploit them.
posted by asperity at 3:39 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


pick a better example than Jaquetta

Hell, no. She's a great example of someone who should never have been exploited this way. Most of the targets of these educational debt predators are people who already have a lot of problems in life, making them very easy marks.
posted by asperity at 3:44 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


"Partnering" with institutions happens here (Australia) too, but the registered provider is accountable in all cases for compliance with the required standards. My (perhaps biased) alarm bells ring mostly about the concept that the relationship between accrediting authorities and the institutions they accredit is one of the institutions being a customer, which is completely opposed to the view that regulators should not see the regulated population as customers, because it skews the relationship needed to effectively regulate. The idea that an organisation can effectively regulate organisations that have a choice of regulators and can shop around to find one that will let them do what they want is anathema to effective regulation.
posted by dg at 3:49 PM on January 27


dg, it gets worse: schools have successfully sued accreditors for breach of contract if they get their accreditation pulled, and won! Anathema to effective regulation is spot on.
posted by yarly at 5:22 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Jaqueta struck me as being very similar to people who were given mortgages for houses they really could not afford, but who were sucked into a predatory lending agreement, basically. People in bad life situations with an ounce of motivation are going to try to get out of those situations, and the big message all of them get is GO TO SCHOOL. So that's what she did.

If you're from a family or in a social group where most people don't go to school, then you kind of don't know what you don't know. You don't know if the school you're picking is crap; you don't know if you'll be able to handle the workload with all the stuff happening in your day-to-day life; you kind of assume that they only let in qualified students who have a decent shot at graduating, and damn it feels good for someone to tell you that you're qualified, even if it turns out you're only "qualified" to be a vector to send them money.

These schools literally profit from students who can't study, who don't even have the basic subsistence requirements in place to be able to attend school. That is just like profiting by giving a mortgage to a "high risk" debtor who you know is going to default. It's awful.

People shouldn't even in BE in situations like Jaqueta's, where it is practically impossible to do basic shit like buy a house or go to college, but millions of them are due to a fucked up society that won't support many of its own citizens in any meaningful way. And now the vultures have found a way to profit from that, too, on top of whatever corporate tax subsidies they already get at the expense denying the populace affordable housing, affordable education, and a living minimum wage.
posted by Ouisch at 9:23 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


The Government Doesn’t Know How Much Its Student Loans Cost
posted by homunculus at 3:22 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


The same issue applies in Australia to the Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS) and the newer Education Loan Program (HELP) Because the debt does not have to be repaid until the person earns (currently) AU$51,300 and the debt is never retired, there's no way of accurately knowing how much is going to be repaid in any year and how much debt will be written off due to death of debtors. It's only recently that lower level vocational programs were eligible for this sort of assistance and, inevitably, a small number of providers have figured out that there are plenty of people vulnerable enough to sign up for these programs with little chance of getting any real increase in their employability and next to no chance of ever earning enough to have to repay the loan. Those most vulnerable are from areas where unemployment is rampant and, in some cases, people are the second or third generation in their family to have never held a job. Couple that with requirements to be either working or undergoing training to supposedly improve employability in order to receive unemployment benefits and it's obvious what the result is going to be. Many people sign up for these 'free' courses just to get the 'free' laptop or iPad.
posted by dg at 12:44 PM on February 7


It looks like EDMC, the parent of The Art Institutes, isn't doing so well. Enrollment is declining and their profits dropped off a cliff. I hate to see people lose their jobs but I'd love to see this company (or at least this incarnation) die.
posted by octothorpe at 2:21 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


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