For-profit colleges that target the homeless?

We keep finding interesting stories around the problem of for-profit college scams. The latest is a report from BusinessWeek in the spring about how some recruiters for University of Phoenix and other for-profit colleges were targeting homeless people in Cleveland and other cities.

Benson Rollins wants a college degree. The unemployed high school dropout who attends Alcoholics Anonymous and has been homeless for 10 months is being courted by the University of Phoenix. Two of its recruiters got themselves invited to a Cleveland shelter last October and pitched the advantages of going to the country’s largest for-profit college to 70 destitute men.

Their visit spurred the 23-year-old Rollins to fill out an online form expressing interest. Phoenix salespeople then barraged him with phone calls and e-mails, urging a tour of its Cleveland campus. “If higher education is important to you for professional growth, and to achieve your academic goals, why wait any longer? Classes start soon and space is limited,” one Phoenix employee e-mailed him on Apr. 15. “I’ll be happy to walk you through the entire application process.”

Rollins’ experience is increasingly common. The boom in for-profit education, driven by a political consensus that all Americans need more than a high school diploma, has intensified efforts to recruit the homeless. Such disadvantaged students are desirable because they qualify for federal grants and loans, which are largely responsible for the prosperity of for-profit colleges. Federal aid to students at for-profit colleges jumped from $4.6 billion in 2000 to $26.5 billion in 2009. Publicly traded higher education companies derive three-fourths of their revenue from federal funds, with Phoenix at 86%, up from just 48% in 2001 and approaching the 90% limit set by federal law.

The article goes on to allege similar problems at Drake College of Business and Chancellor University in Cleveland which has Jack Welch as an investor and spokesman.

The article also alleges that relaxed standards under the Bush administration helped exacerbate the problem, but now the Obama administration is tightening the rules.

Some schools have suspended the policy of recruiting at homeless shelters after the publication of the BusinessWeek article.

  

A look at for-profit college EDMC

BusinessWeek has a recent profile on for-profit college EDMC and the involvement of Goldman Sachs. The article is balanced, as they gave EDMC the opportunity to present success stories, but many of the stories are unfortunately similar to others we’ve heard regarding for-profit colleges – too many students paying huge tuition costs, racking up huge student loans, and then not being able to get high-paying jobs they expected (or were sold on by recruiters). One student profiled in the article got a bachelor’s degree in game art and design at EDMC for a cost $70,000 in tuition and fees. After she graduating she got a job that paid $12 an hour recruiting employees for video game companies. She eventually lost that job and now she’s stripping.

We’re seeing more and more lawsuits in this area, and the article points out some lawsuits against EDMC. Changes are also coming from the Obama administration.

On July 23, the Obama Administration proposed restricting—and in extreme cases, cutting off entirely—programs whose graduates end up with the highest debts relative to their salaries and have the most trouble repaying their student loans. EDMC will be affected more than most other for-profit companies because of its focus on “passion” fields, such as art and cooking, rather than more practical accounting or business degrees, says Jeffrey M. Silber, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets in New York. Cooking, fashion, and arts jobs tend to have low starting salaries: A beginning cook, for example, earns an average of $18,000 a year, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, while a two-year culinary degree can cost $40,000 to $50,000. EDMC spokeswoman Jacquelyn P. Muller says Art Institute students tend to earn more, with those holding culinary degrees starting at $28,000.

You have to do your research if you’re thinking of attending one of these schools, and don’t fall for high-pressure sales tactics!

  

ABC News investigates for-profit colleges

ABC News has been investigating for-profit colleges like University of Phoenix, and they found plenty of evidence of problems similar to other for-profit college scams.

Ads for online schools are all over the Internet, plastered on billboards in subway cars and on television. The University of Phoenix, with nearly 500,000 students, is the biggest for-profit college. But some former students said they were duped into paying big bucks and going deeply in debt by slick and misleading recruiters.

“I don’t want anyone else to be sucked in,” said Melissa Dalmier, 30, of Noble, Ill.

The mother of three had big dreams to be an elementary school teacher, so when she saw ads for the University of Phoenix pop-up on her computer, she e-mailed them for more information. A few minutes later, Dalmier said she got a call from one of the school’s recruiters, who she said told her that enrolling in the associate’s degree in education program at the University of Phoenix would put her on the fast-track to reaching her dream.

“[The recruiter said] they had an agreement with Illinois State Board of Education and that as soon as I finished their program I’d be ready to start working,” she recalled.

Within 15 minutes, Dalmier was enrolled. Since she didn’t have enough money to pay for tuition, she said the recruiter helped her get federal student aid. In total, she took out about $8,000 in federally-guaranteed student loans.

But just a few months after Dalmier started, she said she learned the horrible truth: the degree program she was enrolled in would not qualify her to become a public school teacher upon graduation in Illinois.

“It was an outright lie. A bold faced lie,” she said.

ABC News did its own undercover investigation, and found the same despicable practices. Recruiters also push prospective students to load up on the student loans. Read the rest of the story and check out this video.

  

For-profit college scams

You need to read this article from The New York Times if you’re considering going to a trade school or for-profit college.

One fast-growing American industry has become a conspicuous beneficiary of the recession: for-profit colleges and trade schools.

At institutions that train students for careers in areas like health care, computers and food service, enrollments are soaring as people anxious about weak job prospects borrow aggressively to pay tuition exceeding $30,000 a year.

But the profits have come at substantial taxpayer expense while often delivering dubious benefits to students, according to academics and advocates for greater oversight of financial aid. Critics say many schools exaggerate the value of their degree programs, selling young people on dreams of middle-class wages while setting them up for default on untenable debts, low-wage work and a struggle to avoid poverty. And the schools are harvesting growing federal student aid dollars, including Pell grants awarded to low-income students.

The article goes on to quote a woman who left her job with one of these schools as she became concerned with deceptive recruiting tactics.

It’s stunning to me that these schools are charging $20,000 to $30,000 per year. Unfortunately, it’s another example of good intentions gone bad and the fact that Congress is bought and sold every day. We want to help kids and adults pay for school to improve themselves and find a career, but with all that money comes a new industry that preys on people looking for a new option in life.

Be careful so you don’t end up in a situation where you’re loaded up with debt that you can’t pay back.

One option we should consider is limiting financial aid from the government to public colleges, non-profit schools and accredited private schools.

  

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