by David Halperin, published April 24, 2015
A blockbuster, year-in-the-making investigative series about the for-profit college industry appears online in the Miami Herald today, and, as industry analysts at BMO Capital Markets predicted earlier this week, “Obviously, this is not going to portray the industry in a positive light.” It doesn’t, but that’s because the industry practices and conduct that the Herald found are simply abominable. (I have studied bad actors in this industry for five years and have found the same.) With both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush already addressing this issue, it’s one that’s drawing increasing public attention.
The Herald‘s disclosures about the way for-profit colleges have ripped off students and taxpayers, while buying influence with powerful politicians, are too many to recount, but here are just a few bites to tempt you:
Grier said it was a few months after enrolling in 2010 when she received statements in the mail showing she had already tallied nearly $4,000 in loans. Grier was stuck, and loan servicer Sallie Mae would demand payment.
“Sir, why did you leave Kaplan [for-profit college]?” [Florida] Assistant Attorney General Rene Harrod asked former recruiter Mark Stegall on Nov. 22, 2010.
“I was disgusted with myself,” Stegall responded. Stegall testified he had previously worked in other sales jobs, and “there are some things I don’t feel bad about selling.” But at Kaplan, he said, “you just felt like you were putting these people who were already in a bad situation in life in a worse one.”
And, regarding an employee’s whistleblower lawsuit against ATI Career Training Center, a for-profit college that was shut down by the U.S. Justice Department amid allegations of systematic fraud:
The lawsuit states that a fake high school diploma from Haiti was frequently used to enroll non-eligible students — this one document was re-used over and over, with only the student’s name and graduation date changed.
And this gem, showing how the people overseeing deceptive college operations that get shut down often re-emerge at new companies to chase the lucrative federal dollars involved:
As ATI campuses closed down, Ancora Education, a Texas-based company, announced it had acquired six ATI vocational schools. The CEO of Ancora was Michael Zawisky.… Zawisky’s previous job was chief operating officer at ATI.
Please go read this series. The for-profit college industry has been receiving more than $30 billion a year of your tax dollars, and, while there are good programs in the sector, many bad programs — programs that ruin students’ lives — continue operating to this day.
(You may note that many of the advertisements on the Herald series’ web pages are for Keiser University, one of the schools most scrutinized in the report.)
And watch the Herald’s video above, where a Florida mom, Sara Pierce, recounts how she believes she was misled by a recruiter for Kaplan University into signing up for an online bachelor’s degree program in Nutrition Science. Pierce thought the program would directly qualify her to be a licensed nutritionist, when in fact it was not accredited by the appropriate agency.
When, near the end of her studies, a professor let Pierce know that the degree would not make her eligible for the job she sought, and she complained, the school pointed her to fine print in a Kaplan manual. But come on. Had Pierce actually known the low value of the degree, she would not have enrolled. And we see this again and again with for-profit colleges, including Kaplan — companies that have fine-tuned the art of deceptive selling, especially to busy single parents, low-income 18-year-olds, returning veterans, immigrants, and others dreaming of a better life and not always positioned to detect scams.
Sara Pierce says she was left “completely numb” and $40,000 in debt by her experience at Kaplan. Apparently now working as a bartender, Pierce speaks directly to Kaplan’s boss: “I would like to tell who ever runs this … put yourself in my shoes.”
The man who runs the company that operates Kaplan University is Donald Graham. You might recognize the name, because his company, now called Graham Holdings, also operated, until 2013, a newspaper, when the company was called The Washington Post Company. Graham is a pillar of the DC establishment, and that stature has made him perhaps the most influential lobbyist for the for-profit college industry in its fight to defeat stronger measures to hold bad actors accountable for waste, fraud, and abuse with taxpayer dollars. Based on Graham’s relentless vouching, influential Washingtonians have said to me again and again,”Kaplan — that’s one of the good ones, right?” It’s not. And, by the way, Graham Holdings has long held a major stake in Corinthian Colleges, the collapsing for-profit college chain that has behaved so badly that even the rest of the industry has now thrown it under the bus.
This article also appears on Huffington Post.