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For-profit colleges are a multi-billion dollar industry. They offer career-oriented degree and diploma programs at a very high tuition rate. In some cases, students who attend for-profit colleges end up paying as much for their education as someone who attends an ivy league school. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this week released a two year investigation into the for-profit education in which they found significant problems. Before getting into those finding, I would like to share my own experience at a for-profit school.

In 1995, I had just gotten out of the Navy and had no idea what to do next. In the Navy, I had been an "Aviation Machinist Mate" or aircraft mechanic, which could have translated into a very good job, but I really hated it, and, quite frankly, I was terrible at it. When I was in the Navy I rarely slept through the night, because I would constantly wake up terrified that I had made a mistake and a jet would crash killing someone. There was no way that I could continue to do that, so I was looking for other options.

I grew up in a small town with a population of about 300 people. Higher education was a completely foreign concept to me, my family, my friends, etc. When I saw an ad for a medical assistant program on TV, I thought that sounded like a good idea.

I went to see a "counselor" who wow'd me with lots of statistics about the allied health field. She presented me with graphs and charts from Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed medical assistants made, on average, $14/hr, which wasn't bad in 1996. She told me about how most students had job offers before they even graduate from the nine-month program, even being recruited from out of state; and, the onsite career center would work tirelessly for me even after I was done to make sure I had a great job. I'm an inherently trusting person, so I bought into every word of it and was enrolled within an hour.

The financial aid department signed me up for $8,000 worth of student loans. I'm still not really sure how they got that much from a nine-month program. The student loans did not cover the full cost of tuition, so I also had to pay an additional $500 a month, which came out of my G.I bill. So, when it was all said and done, I paid more than $12,000 for the program, not including the cost of transportation, living expenses, supplies, etc.

I completely threw myself into the program. I wanted to be the best, and I was. I had perfect attendance and received awards for academic achievement for every unit. I finished at the top of the class and did, indeed, have a job offer when I graduated... for a 3-month part-time temporary position at $7/hr.

I was working for the largest health care conglomerate in Northern California. I was barely making above minimum wage and had no benefits. I was being worked 39 hours a week in my "part-time" position. I worked hard, hoping my part-time temporary position would work into a full-time benefited position. It wasn't long before I realized that wasn't going to happen. A few weeks before my three-month assignment was up, a new graduate came in and I was asked to train her. Once she was ready, I was let go.

I applied for every job I could find, both in state and out, and consistently came up with nothing. I called the career development department that had promised to help me even after graduating, and they wouldn't even talk to me. I called the counselor who had sold me on the program and all she could offer was another program that was, supposedly, even more in demand. I said, "no thanks."

The problem, you see, is that there were dozens of these schools and they were all turning out hundreds of graduates every month. The field was completely saturated. When all was said and done, my perfect attendance and academic achievements were worthless.

But, the story doesn't end there, because I still have all that debt, and it has grown. Worst of all, it is currently preventing me from completing the last three semesters I need to get my applied math degree. I can't afford anymore loans and don't currently qualify for a pell grant, so I have no way to finish school.

If I had never gone to High tech Institute, I could have finished my math degree years ago. I could have a good job right now. Instead, I am struggling every month to find enough work just to cover the most basic expenses. Nearly 20 years later, I am still suffering consequences from attending a for-profit college for nine months in 1996. And the worst part? I could have gotten the same diploma through a community college for about $500.

So, what did the Senate committee find?

The two-year investigation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found a range of problems that run “deep within the for-profit sector,” which received $32 billion through federal student aid in the 2009-10 academic year.

It said the government gets little return on that investment, with most students at for-profit institutions failing to graduate.

In a one-year period these for-profit colleges sucked $32 billion dollars from the federal student aid system. That wouldn't be so bad if the students were graduating and getting good jobs, but they aren't.
But the report said that more than half the students enrolled in a for-profit program in 2008-09 left without a degree or diploma. The 30 companies studied had nearly 1.1 million Americans enrolled between 2008 and 2009, but more than half had withdrawn by mid-2010, it said.
These students are going into debt and not even getting the benefit of a degree. In most cases, the debt they accumulate could pay for multiple community college programs.

The study did find that Arizona based Universal Technical Institute is getting students into jobs:

The results from Universal Technical Institute, which offers vocational programs, suggest that students are finishing the program and finding jobs, even though it had high tuition rates.
What isn't clear is if those jobs pay enough to offset the high tuition.

The Apollo Group, which runs University of Phoenix, was also said to be taking "the right steps" toward fixing issues within their system, but they are still putting profits before students.

The report does offer some solutions:

The report suggests three major changes: Enhance transparency by collecting relevant and accurate student outcome information, strengthen federal financial aid oversight and create meaningful protection for students.
In my opinion, these are not the right solutions. The right solution is to invest more heavily into community colleges. Many students who get sucked into for-profit colleges do not know that they can get the same education at a community college for much cheaper. The for-profit schools advertise like crazy. You can't watch daytime TV for more than 10 minutes without seeing an ad for one of their programs. Community colleges simply cannot compete with their ad budgets.

How about making for-profit counselors show potential students the comparison between the cost at their institution and the cost for the same program at a local community college?

Oh, and how did Republicans respond?

But a minority report by Republican staffers on the committee said that while it is “indisputable that significant problems exist” at some for-profit institutions, Democrats “did not seek bipartisan input or support” for the investigation. The majority’s “biased conduct” throughout the probe raises doubts about the accuracy of the report, they said.
So, rather than try to find a solution that could save the federal student aid system billions of dollars a year, they want to play politics and pretend this is a partisan attack.

Originally posted to Posh (and not so Posh) Thoughts on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is a really important diary. (16+ / 0-)

    Yours is an all-too-common and depressing story and needs to be told around.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:30:40 AM PDT

  •  Wow... (14+ / 0-)

    I've always been leary of for-profit colleges, but I didn't know it was this bad.

    I've been enrolled in a community college for close to 3 years now, my total debt from student loans is not even $8,000 yet (though I did get some grants and scholarships along the way).  I've only been going part-time, but still, that is crazy, I have over 100 credit hours to show for it and am close (about 20 credit hours) to graduating as a Computer Programmer.

    However, I will never be shocked that Republicans side with corporations over people, after all profits are the most important thing to them.

    Facts are liberally bias

    by SuzieQ4624 on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:40:03 AM PDT

  •  It's a two edged sword (19+ / 0-)

    I work daily with for-profit training colleges.

    For the most part they are a terrible bargain when comparing 'Cost of school versus entry level wage in chosen field'.

    Yet, they become a funnel for the urban core population, the recently laid off and the new poor.

    Why? Because they offer expediency that can't be found in traditional schools like community colleges or universities.

    They're entrance requirements are often less strict, they can definitely get you financial aid!!!(Thanks DOE) and most importantly, they are not bound to a traditional semester structure of start dates and deadlines - you can start almost immediately.

    While this may seem to be a benefit for someone that's just lost their job - the high, high cost of the programs is often disguised by the frankly unethical tactics used to enroll students.

    They blind you with statistics about how awesome your new career will be, how many jobs there are, and how much money you'll make!

    The reality is this: Only certain fields offer good entry level wages for those with no experience.

    If it costs you 21,000 dollars for a Medical Assistant Associate Degree( A real cost for a real program currently at one of those fine institutions) then you might be shocked to find out the entry level wage for Medical Assistance in our metro area(top 50 city in the U.S.) is a sparkling 11.25/hr. If you can find a job with no experience. YAY!

    That is not to say that, if used properly, a proprietary school can be a good outlet for certain fields. Obtaining a Registered Nursing degree - albeit it for around 30,000 dollars - does yield a high opportunity of employment and wage(around 50K to start).

    If you can't wait around for a community college to start or can't get enrolled - average wait time after complete nursing prerequisites in our area is about 1 year - then it might be the correct choice.

    When I counsel job seekers for training I always tell them to ask themselves these simple questions.

    1.) If the training is x amount of time - how will I support myself in school?

    2.) If the average wage for entry level positions is x amount - how does that compare to the total cost of the program?

    3.) If the cost benefit analysis works out - are there actual job openings for my new field without any experience?

    And finally, the most important thing to understand: Training, by itself and regardless of whatever the school may tell you, IS NOT A GUARANTEE OF EMPLOYMENT.

    Power-Worshipping Fascist

    by campionrules on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:45:05 AM PDT

  •  This such a problem (5+ / 0-)

    They advertise and the sell in ways that community colleges cannot do and they siphon money and hope from the students. Shameful ... but I am not surprised that the Repubs support this rip off.

    I know that the ads here on Dkos would disappear if I subscribed but then I would miss the sad irony of this ad appearing between your diary and the comments. I wish I could capture it in all its wonderful orange emphasis.

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    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:46:04 AM PDT

  •  Yeah, it's about time they did something (7+ / 0-)

    about this. The for-profit "college" scam has been operating for a while now and they target vets.

    The GOP ... Government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

    by Azazello on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:47:16 AM PDT

  •  John Sperling, founder of Apollo Group: (10+ / 0-)
    This is a corporation . . . Coming here is not a rite of passage. We are not trying to develop [students'] value systems or go in for that "expand their minds" bullshit. (cited in Frank Donoghue's The Last Professors: the Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities)
    The financial predation by the for-profits is sickening and (frankly) immoral, but the for-profit model has had pernicious systemic effects on "traditional" higher-ed as well.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:59:37 AM PDT

    •  Yes, it should be pointed out (5+ / 0-)

      that more traditional, higher education runs into the same problem as for profit schools.

      While the education is likely much better, your credits are recognized and the degrees offered are better - the costs may still be staggering high and that niggling point about cost benefit return on your degree is often very applicable.

      Even good schools may not be so forthcoming about the realistic job opportunities for their graduating students - but look! " A 5 year course in Transhuman Incan Studies!"

      Power-Worshipping Fascist

      by campionrules on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 10:12:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Community colleges are a pretty great bargain (8+ / 0-)

        compared to for-profit colleges, though. For instance, the college near to me has a culinary studies program that costs around $1,200. The culinary schools that advertise constantly during daytime TV charge around $30,000 for the same program.

        •  Absolutely (5+ / 0-)

          Best of the bunch for short term technical training - even nursing- and a awesome way to get the first two years of undergraduate studies out of the way for a fraction of the cost.

          Some of the schools offer non credit courses as well such as complementary training certificates in Six Sigma, Project Management etc, which are most useful for already experienced people who may have been laid off but need a new credential to reenter the job market.

          Biggest issue with community college's is that their resources are constrained by numbers and schedule.

          Certain vocational programs that are high paying and in demand can suffer from strong competition to get in and thus waiting lists when the CC's classroom fills up.

          Still the best buy - by far- in this current economy.

          Power-Worshipping Fascist

          by campionrules on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 10:32:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, college degrees are more valuable now (2+ / 0-)

        than ever. The unemployment gap alone is staggering. It actually is well worth it to take on the average amount of college debt (10-24k for public schools).

        "Unemployment and underemployment rates of young graduates have only modestly improved since their peak in 2010.
        For young high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 32.7 percent in 2010 and 31.1 percent over the last year (April 2011–March 2012), while the underemployment rate was 55.9 percent in 2010 and 54.0 percent over the last year.
        For young college graduates, the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent in 2010 and 9.4 percent over the last year, while the underemployment rate was 19.8 percent in 2010 and 19.1 percent over the last year."

  •  Also worth noting... (3+ / 0-)

    Many employers not only won't pay for employees to attend such schools as part of employee development programs. My employer is very, very generous with tuition reimbursement, flexible scheduling, etc. - but not for for-profit schools. In addition, I'm pretty sure that our recruiters now disregard those degrees entirely when they're looking at candidates. It doesn't mean that someone with one won't get hired, but it's simply treated as if it's not on the resume at all.

    My kid is starting to look at schools now, and his filter is pretty simple. If it's a .com, it's automatically a NO. He's not uncritical of .edus, but at least they get a glance. Not a bad filter, it seems.

    "I like to go into Marshall Field's in Chicago just to see all the things there are in the world that I do not want." M. Madeleva, C.S.C.

    by paxpdx on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 01:20:43 PM PDT

  •  A community college near me has billboards (4+ / 0-)

    advertising their low tuition. I think that's great. These for profit schools spend tons on marketing, and most community colleges don't have dollars for that.  They need to be able to communicate this (as do 4 year colleges of all stripes - even most non profit private schools are cheaper than for-profits).

    CC's need enormous help, though, in graduation rates in particular. They need more counselors and more investment in creating environments that encourage students to finish.

    And of course in California CC's are actually turning people away now, probably pushing them into the arms of these predators. It's awful.

  •  Problems with CC (3+ / 0-)

    The schedules for CC are geared toward young kids who have parents proving their main support.

    I personally attended a program for nursing that was paid by the federal government as a job training program.
    I was encouraged to attend a CC instead but as a single mother with 2 kids who worked full time nights, CC was a no go.

    The program I attended was geared to Adults. The hours were the same every week. I attended 3 full 8 hour days a week. There were no morning classes, then late afternoon classes, then odd hour labs.

    This allowed me to be able to continue working and plan for childcare. Something that was impossible at the CC.

    The other part was that there were no Prerequisite classes. There were several entry exams, math and english ect. and a requirement of 1 year in healthcare, but then all the classes required to complete the course were contained within the program.

    CC need to bundle their training programs instead of stringing them out. Until someone can say "XCC offers X program that takes X months to complete" then people will continue to be scammed by "medical assisting" programs.


    Constitution and Bill of rights available for use from 6AM till 10PM Monday through Friday. At all other times the rules are made up for the convenience of the local police/politicians.

    by J Rae on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 03:47:22 PM PDT

  •  I see a lot of those ads in Texas (4+ / 0-)

    - medical transcriptions, auto repairmen, cooking schools, and dental assistants.  And they always end the ad with "I'm glad that you're excited about this program!  Call today for more details!"  The whole thing seems so shady, I'd probably be better off buying a degree from Pakistan.

    I'd rather be called a dirty fucking hippy for reading books then to stand on the side that throws books in the garbage. - MinistryofTruth

    by Jensequitur on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 04:07:55 PM PDT

  •  The blood sucking for-profit schools need to be (6+ / 0-)

    put out of business.

    And, you're right PoshGirl about community colleges. I attended an expensive private college right out of high school and then an ultra-expensive private university working toward a degree in fine arts. When I got married and dropped out of school, not having an art degree never made a whit of difference in my life. Years later, I went back to school, changed my major and started taking a few classes at a local community college. I finished my bachelor's degree at a small state university and did a master's at a large state university, so I feel qualified to speak to this issue. At no time did I have classes or instructors that were significantly better than those at the community college. This may not be true everywhere, but based on my experience I'm a HUGE advocate for our community college and a fierce opponent of the for-profit education racquet at every level.

    Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

    by RJDixon74135 on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 04:55:13 PM PDT

    •  I've been to both a for-profit diploma mill as (2+ / 0-)

      well as to a non-profit small college (and degrees from both).  Had the same experience with both of them, in that promises for employment assistance were rather rosy and painted a much better situation than what was actually received.  I had the misfortune of leaving both programs into nasty recessions (1986 and 1992), so some of these colleges' lack of help in gaining employment after graduation can be explained away.

      The small college experience came first, and after the Federal Government screwed up my post-graduation plans (first the FAA/Air Traffic Controller, then the idiots running the Peace Corps), I found myself looking for gainful employment 18 months into a weak economy still in the throes of a recession.  Did a short stint in temp work, but couldn't get anything tied to my degree nor paying what was needed to pay off the school loans.

      Eventually, desperation caused me to enroll in the for-profit institution who gladly credited me for a lot of the courses I took at the other college.  Unfortunately, I let one of the instructors there talk me into enrolling in the recently started Accounting program he formulated in their environment.  He was a rather good salesperson for his program, and it embarrassed him personally that someone from the "other" program was acing his classes at a level much higher than "his" first class of students.

      I had to make ends meet by working as a TA for the college there, as well as two other part-time jobs, and worked for their admissions office during the off weeks when classes were not going on.  I allowed myself to be blinded to the less scrupulous of their admissions salespersons counselors thinking that I was helping some of the "better" ones there help others.  After two years, not even graduating at the top of the class, and Magna Cum Laude, got more of a job offer than as a file clerk (essentially).

      I ended up taking a teaching position there, after graduation, in a program started there to assist some of the poorly trained students coming from the Chicago Public Schools.  I would still be there, too, if it weren't for the nasty internal office politics started by an individual there who was, essentially, Grimer Wormtongue.  I thought that if I stayed there long enough, I could offset the worst that that institution stood for, but trying to be a good apple surrounded by rot in the barrel was not the future I ended up with.

      -8.88, -7.77 Social Security as is will be solvent until 2037, and the measures required to extend solvency beyond that are minor. -- Joe Conanson

      by wordene on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 06:43:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  That really sounds like fraud to me. nt (4+ / 0-)
  •  There is an easy solution: (3+ / 0-)

    Allow students to default on their debt.  Everyone reading this is carrying water for these predatory institutions: theirs, yours, and my tax dollars are paying for the courts to pass judgement, the cops to confiscate, and the collection agencies to harass to collect these debts.  It is a national shake-down and we are all enabling it.

    and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

    by ban48 on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 06:55:52 PM PDT

  •  I agree in general - but my experience... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...was generally positive.  From 2006 to 2011, my salary has increased 196%.

    After consolidating my Bachelors of Science and MBA loans, I'm sitting at $93,000.  My payment is $495 a month.

    My experience is (from all accounts) in the minority.  I had some downright terrible classes, that clearly were there just to fulfill basic general education requirements.  But by and large and I had some great teachers who really cared about education.

    While I whole-heart-idly believe that better regulation needs to happen, for-profit universities have filled a niche that traditional colleges are just now starting to get into (distance, off-hours learning, flex schedules, primarily).

    GOD! Save me from your followers.

    by adversus on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:37:57 PM PDT

  •  It's not great for the instructors either (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A lot of the instructors at for-profits are people who are working towards a graduate degree but haven't got there yet. Now that the community colleges have no funding, the only place to get teaching experience is at a for-profit. That means a lot of bright, talented instructors are being put in the position of being paid only by the hours they spend in a "classroom," which, when you add in the twice that they need to spend prepping and grading, boils down to about 10 dollars an hour. Maybe 15, if they're lucky or they give up trying to deliver real content. All that money goes to the CEOs, not the people working with the students.

    Oh, and no office hours, so the students don't get any help there, but you're expected to give them your cell phone number so they can call you for help, and text them if they're late to class. I know. I did that job for a couple of quarters because I needed the money and the teaching experience. It was hard to watch these kids come in knowing that they weren't going to be able to use the degree they were working towards. They're not stupid kids. They're just... the ones nobody wants.

    And I knew that from experience. Like the diarist, I went to a for-profit for three quarters, too, right after 9/11 when the bottom fell out of the job market and I couldn't find work. And then I wised up and went to a community college instead. Now the student loans I took out for the FP are killing me; they tricked me into private loans with exorbitant interest rates.

    I got out of that teaching position as soon as I could and found a teaching job at a real school. My best triumph? One of my most talented students from the for-profit tracked me down on Facebook and told me he'd switched to a four-year institution.

    At least I reached a few of them.

    Science can tell you how to clone a dinosaur. Humanities explains why this is a bad idea.

    by Killer of Sacred Cows on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 10:27:30 PM PDT

  •  These diploma mills are croping up everywhere (2+ / 0-)

    They smell a dollar of government money waiting to be picked with very little accountability. Where is the consumer protection we need to save us from these shame schools.

    Some of them are not really accredited. They bought of schools who were accredited and "borrow" their good ratings. My nephew who teaches in a 4 year university said that they often end up costing students more money than a good 4 year school. Its a racket. I am glad they are getting exposed.

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